UK government strikes deal with Vodafone over e& security concerns 


News 

The move comes as a measure to prevent foreign powers from having too much power and influence over British businesses 

Vodafone and the UK government have reached an agreement to implement “proportionate measures” after the government raised concerns over UAE-based e&’s growing stake in the UK operator. 

The government last week said that e&’s significant stake in the business poses a national security risk and ordered Vodafone to take mitigating action, the details of which have now been agreed. 

e&, previously known as Etisalat, is 60% owned by the Emirati government and has built up its stake in Vodafone in recent years, reaching 14.6% in April 2023.  

The increased stake made it Vodafone’s largest shareholder and gave e&’s CEO, Hatem Dowidar, a seat on Vodafone’s board.  

The decision immediately faced scrutiny from the UK government, with the cabinet office warning that the decision would enable e& to “materially influence policy at Vodafone”. 

Given the fact that Vodafone plays a strategic role in the UK telecommunications sector, the government mandated that a “national security committee” is to be set up at Vodafone, which will monitor any sensitive work that could have an impact on the UK’s national security. The government said that the measure is “necessary and proportionate” to “mitigate the risk to national security”.  

The UK government also ordered that it be notified if the relationship between the two companies changes.  

These new governmental interventions have been made under the recently triggered section 26 of the National Security and Investments Act, put in place to address any countrywide security concerns. 

“Where investment might impact the UK’s national security – for example through the acquisition of certain technologies or infrastructure – we will work with investment partners to minimise any risk,” said Oliver Dowden, Deputy Prime Minister in a statement made last week. 

“As part of our Critical National Infrastructure, telecoms is one such sector. Vodafone is also a particularly important company for the UK Government given its critical functions, including as a key partner in HMG’s Cyber Security Strategy,” he continued. 

Since that statement, the Cabinet Office confirmed this week that “proportionate measures to address any potential national security concerns” have been agreed by Vodafone, though further details as to what these measures are have not been announced. 

“We are pleased to have received clearance in our home market for our strategic relationship agreement with e& and for e& to take a seat on our board,” said Vodafone in a short statement. 

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