UK set for tussle with Europe over O2-Virgin deal approval

Among the many bitterly disputed terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU are the jurisdiction of competition authorities, which could affect the O2-Virgin Media merger.

The whole purpose of the European Commission and the countless other EU bureaucratic bodies is to take sovereignty away from European nations and tell them what to do. While the divorce is set to be completed at the end of this year, the EU is still clinging to its vestiges of influence over the UK like a vengeful spouse.

O2 UK and Virgin Media UK announced their intention to merge in May of this year. Since the merger involves no reduction in competition in either the mobile or fixed-line markets in the UK, it’s reasonable to assume that any objective competition authority will allow the deal to go through. But what if the EU decides, in a fit of jilted petulance, to delay the move while it still has the power to do so, just to make a point?

Today the FT reported the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is set to request full jurisdiction over the deal from the EU, on the grounds that it only affects the UK and we’ll be out of the EU within six months. “This important merger will only impact consumers in the UK and since any review will likely conclude after the transition period, it is only right for the CMA to request it back now,” the CMA told the FT.

The piece reckons the EU will still want to poke its nose into this UK-only affair because that’s what it does. Historically national authorities have failed in their bids to wrestle back control from the EU, but the situation with the UK leaving is unprecedented. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear the EU is using the deal as a bargaining chip in the divorce settlement, which would be a scandal.