UK flexes muscles over Arm takeover: Government launches probe into Nvidia’s £29bn bid for chip maker on national security grounds
The UK’s tougher approach to technology deals was on show yesterday as ministers intervened to investigate the £29billion takeover of Arm.
US-based Nvidia is seeking to buy the British chip maker from Japan’s Softbank. It is the latest example of ministers and regulators taking a closer interest in tech deals after Brexit, which in the past were waved through.
Critics have long claimed that the lax approach taken previously allowed prized British firms to be snapped up by foreign giants with little scrutiny.
Tech deal fears: US-based Nvidia is seeking to buy the British chip maker from Japan’s Softbank
For example, artificial intelligence star Deepmind was snapped up by Google in 2014, while chip maker Imagination Technologies was sold to China-backed Canyon Bridge.
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former adviser, later complained about Deepmind’s sale, saying the UK had a valuable asset and let Google buy it ‘for trivial money without the powers that be in Whitehall understanding its significance’.
The Arm deal has come under scrutiny over competition concerns, and yesterday Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden launched a probe on national security grounds.
Arm’s chip designs are ubiquitous in digital devices across the globe, with the Government warning they also underpin critical UK infrastructure and defence technology.
But despite stressing that ministers still want to encourage foreign investment, Dowden yesterday said it was ‘appropriate that we properly consider the national security implications’ of the sale of Arm.
No such intervention was made when Softbank bought Arm for £24billion in 2016. At the time, the company was seen as the jewel in the crown of Britain’s technology industry but its sale was waved through by ministers, who were anxious to promote the economy in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Then prime minister Theresa May even called Softbank’s boss to congratulate him on the deal.
But yesterday the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it wanted to examine possible ‘national security implications’ of the proposed sale to Nvidia.
The importance of computer chips – also known as semiconductors – has been underscored by recent global shortages, as well as the trade disputes between the US and China.
Both Washington and Beijing regard advances in semiconductors as crucial to future technologies such as 5G communications and artificial intelligence, with the two superpowers racing to gain an advantage over one another.
Concerns that these technologies could be used for military purposes or spying have also led to calls in Western countries for supply chains to be made secure and relocated if necessary.
Dowden’s move was welcomed by union Prospect, which has warned that Nvidia’s takeover could put jobs at risk – although the firm has insisted it will keep Arm based in the UK and expand its presence.
General secretary Mike Clancy said: ‘If the UK is serious about becoming a science superpower, we need to ensure that the future of our most cutting-edge companies is secure and that high-quality jobs are protected for the future