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UK Deputy Prime Minister reviews national security powers in response to tech threats

Written by Tue 14 Nov 2023

The Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, Oliver Dowden, has announced a ‘Call for Evidence’ on potential updates to the National Security and Investment Act. 

The goal is to ensure the Government’s investment screening powers remain current, proportionate, and transparent for businesses, while protecting national security.

The National Security and Investment Act grants the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK the authority to scrutinise, impose conditions on, or block acquisitions of businesses and assets crucial to the nation’s national security.

“At a time of rising tensions around the world the UK Government must stay ahead of the game to ensure our legislation to protect economic security keeps pace with rapid technological advances,” said Dowden.

The Deputy Prime Minister also said that the best way to foster economic security is through a strong and open economy.

“That’s why we’ve been using the powers effectively so far, only intervening when absolutely necessary to protect national security. 

“Yet two years on, it’s right that we formally engage with stakeholders to ensure the process remains as frictionless and effective as possible as we take the long-term decisions for the country,” added Dowden.

Businesses, investors, and adviser responses will shape a Government review. The review will focus on refining mandatory notification rules for deals with national security implications, streamlining notification and assessment processes for businesses, and enhancing Government guidance clarity under the Act.

Semiconductors and critical minerals could be established as standalone sectors under the Act. The Deputy Prime Minister said this reflected their growing importance since the Act’s inception.

“This Call for Evidence is the natural next step in our engagement with businesses. Against a rapidly changing geopolitical backdrop, I am pleased that we are considering ways to ensure the investment screening process remains frictionless for those looking to invest and grow businesses here in the UK,” said Nusrat Ghani, Minister of State Responsible for the Investment Security Unit.

The ‘Call for Evidence’ will be open for nine weeks and close on 15 January 2024. In this time, the Government expects to receive feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including domestic and international businesses, investors, academia, and advisory firms. None of the changes are expected to require primary legislation.

Most businesses have not needed to engage with investment screening powers, according to July figures. Of those that did, the Government cleared approximately 93% of notifications without further assessment, facilitating investment flow.

Out of the 866 total notifications received, the Government intervened 15 times due to national security concerns. A total of 17 final orders were issued to impose conditions, block, or unwind specific deals.

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Written by Tue 14 Nov 2023

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