In 2014, AstraZeneca rejected a 62.5bn bid to create the world’s largest pharmaceuticals business with its US rival Pfizer. After the latter still pursued AstraZeneca, however, the political pressure grew on prime minister David Cameron to intervene so as to protect jobs.
According to Cable, Rolls-Royce presents a much stronger case for government intervention than that of AstraZeneca. He argued that the company’s aerospace business was too important to the British economy.
Among ministers’ concerns about Rolls-Royce is the ten per cent stake possessed by US hedge fund firm ValueAct, which is allegedly pushing to gain board representation.
As such, it was reported that officials were drawing up contingency plans which could be activated in the the event of a foreign takeover bid.
One such method was for the firm’s nuclear submarines operation to be nationalised. Cable has also suggested that ministers should look into buying stakes in the company.
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“There is already a possible public interest for takeovers to be blocked on the grounds of national security, which is clearly an issue for R-R,” he said.
“If there were any case demanding Government intervention to prevent a takeover, it would be Rolls-Royce, and there are certainly grounds for the Government to own a stake in the whole company given that aero engines are such a core part of Britain’s aerospace industry”
He suggested that “anything which fundamentally threatens to diminish the value of Rolls-Royce could be a trigger for the government to take a stake in the company”.
A number of protections already exist within Rolls-Royce’s corporate structure to deter overseas bidders, such as the 14.9 per cent cap on foreign ownership of the company’s shares and what has been deemed as the government’s golden share .
An official government spokesman said: “Rolls-Royce is a major contributor to our economy and an important supplier to the government. We will continue to work closely with them. I’m not going to get into specifics about the company’s future.”