United Kingdom

Our December blog, examined the optimism at the end of last year that a way could be found out of the political deadlock that has paralysed the Northern Ireland Assembly for the last two years. As our blog noted, although those hopes did not materialize, the fact that the discussions had reached such an advanced stage suggested that a solution might be found in the New Year.  The announcement by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on 30 January that a Deal had been reached seems to justify that optimism.

A Historical Recap

The 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement (GFA) brought an end to 30 years of ‘The Troubles’.  It struck a delicate balance between the competing interests of the Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland.  Key to its success was the removal of border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the creation of a Power Sharing Executive (PSE) for Northern Ireland.  The PSE allocates the position of First Minister to the largest political party in Northern Ireland, and the position of Deputy First Minister to the second largest.  Other than the status implied by the titles, there is very little practical difference between the two roles.

Northern Ireland’s parliament, the Stormont Assembly, only actually sat for any extended period of time between 2007-2017, but, until the last set of elections, the DUP had always held the position of First Minister.

Brexit and Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland voted by 56:44 to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum.  The Unionist community largely voted ‘Leave’, believing it would consolidate Northern Ireland’s position within the UK; the Nationalist community generally voted ‘Remain’ for the opposite reason. Continue Reading The DUP and The Deal: Power-Sharing Returns to N Ireland

What do you need to know?

Following a call for information earlier this year, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has now announced the changes it intends to make to its merger review process. The majority of the changes are to the Phase 2 process, which is only encountered in a minority of formal reviews, namely those where the CMA believes the merger could lead to a substantial lessening of competition – at the time of writing, of the 76 merger reviews opened by the CMA since 1 January 2022, only nine (12%) had been referred to Phase 2 (whereas around 10% of non-simplified merger review procedures lead to a Phase 2 review in the EU). These changes largely seek to make the Phase 2 process more interactive, with a view to arriving at acceptable remedies proposals sooner in the process. The proposed changes follow a period of criticism of the CMA’s approach to merger enforcement and reflect a desire to improve the effectiveness of the UK merger review process. The proposed changes are being consulted on until 8 January 2024. 

Why is the CMA revising its Phase 2 procedures?

The amendments are being introduced against the backdrop of the UK’s exit from the EU. Post-Brexit, global deals that could affect competition in the UK and would previously have been the reviewed by the European Commission under its “one-stop-shop” principle are now often reviewed by the CMA in parallel, giving rise to divergent outcomes on clearance or acceptable remedies with surprising frequency. As the CMA’s responsibility has increased, so too has the brightness of the spotlight on its approach to merger enforcement which has also exposed the fact that the EU and UK merger processes are often not in sync. As explained below, some of the CMA’s proposals bring the UK process closer to that of the European Commission, suggesting that limiting (procedural) divergence could be a key driver behind these changes.Continue Reading Towards a More Interactive Merger Review Process: UK CMA Proposes Amendments

From as soon as 1 January 2024, the UK Government is implementing a wide range of new employment law that will affect organizations with UK operations. Below is a handy table summarizing key changes and start dates.

Some critical issues for employers include: (i) stronger workplace protections against sexual harassment; (ii) increased employee flexible working rights; (iii) new holiday pay rules; (iv) new employee rights to request predictable working terms; (v) rights for agency workers to request jobs at client companies; and (vi) changes to TUPE. Continue Reading Eight Imminent Key Changes to UK Employment Law

On 26 October 2023, the UK’s Online Safety Bill received Royal Assent, becoming the Online Safety Act (“OSA”).  The OSA imposes various obligations on tech companies to prevent the uploading of, and rapidly remove, illegal user content—such as terrorist content, revenge pornography, and child sexual exploitation material—from their services, and also to take steps to

On 11 July 2023 the National Security Act 2023 (the Act) received royal assent and became law. The Act addresses trade secret misappropriation in the context of industrial espionage by a foreign government, making the unauthorised conduct of obtaining, copying, recording or retaining a trade secret, or disclosing or providing access to a trade secret, under certain circumstances, a criminal offence. The maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment and/or a fine (section 2 of the Act).

The trade secrets provision is part of a broader regime introduced by the UK government to address national security threats such as espionage, sabotage and foreign interference. 

One of the conditions that has to be met in relation to the person’s conduct is the “foreign power condition”. The foreign power condition is defined in section 31(1) of the Act as:

(a)the conduct in question, or a course of conduct of which it forms part, is carried out for or on behalf of a foreign power, and

(b)the person knows, or having regard to other matters known to them ought reasonably to know, that to be the case.

In order for section 31(1) to be triggered it is for example sufficient if the conduct is under direction or control of the foreign power or even just carried out with the financial or otherwise assistance provided by a foreign power for that purpose.

It will be interesting to see how the foreign power condition will be applied in practice, in particular where governments have extensive control and ownership over corporations.Continue Reading Trade secrets misappropriation: a new criminal offence in the UK

On 26 June 2023, the International Sustainability Standards Board (“ISSB”) published its inaugural International Financial Reporting Standards Sustainability Disclosure Standards (the “ISSB Standards”) (read our previous blog post on this here).  In August 2023, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) published Primary Market Bulletin 45, confirming its intentions to update its climate-related disclosures

This note provides highlights of the UK’s recently released and remarkably sweeping Energy Security Bill.  If enacted, the Bill will have profound impacts on energy investments and the pace and scope of the energy transition in the UK.  Before detailing the Bill, some political context may be useful.

The Uxbridge Surprise

Boris Johnson’s resignation as

Two speeches by the EU Commission President, Ursula Von de Leyen in March and April 2023, set out the EU’s policy towards China. In late April, the UK Foreign Secretary set out the UK’s emerging strategy and on the same day earlier this month, a UK Government Committee released a report which heavily criticized the UK’s dealings with China and the German Government released its long-awaited (and much-redrafted) China Strategy. 

This blog looks at similarities between the three approaches and what conclusions we might draw about the implications.

EU China Strategy

The EU first labelled China a systemic rival in 2019.  Since then, the European Commission has promoted the idea of “de-risking” the bloc’s most sensitive economic sectors to limit their dependence on China.

In a powerful speech in March 2023 Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen set out the need for the EU to develop its China Strategy.  The new strategy was needed because of what she described as the hardening of China’s overall strategic posture, matched by human rights abuses at home and an increasingly assertive stance in Asia. She was careful to note that the EU’s position on China would depend on how China interacts with ‘Putin’s war’ and how China meets international human rights obligations.  President Von der Leyen labelled as deliberate Chinese policies of disinformation and economic and trade coercion, saying they were used to target ‘countries to ensure they comply and conform’.

The tone of President Von der Leyen’s speech was set against the EU’s assessment that a newly assertive China was moving from an era of ‘reform and opening’ to one of ‘security and control’ whose purpose was ‘a systemic change of the international order [to place] China at its centre’.  In her speech, The Commission President noted that ‘all companies in China…are…obliged … to assist state intelligence-gathering operations and to keep it secret’. President Von der Leyen concluded that Chinese focus on military, tech and economic security would increasingly trump the appeal of free markets and open trade.

However, President Von de Leyen made clear that the EU did not seek to ‘cut economic, societal, political or scientific ties’, but rather to ‘rebalance the relationship on the basis of transparency, predictability and reciprocity.’ Using language reminiscent of President Macron’s call for the EU to seek greater ‘strategic autonomy’, President Von der Leyen argued that the new relationship would require the EU’s economy and industry to be more competitive and resilient in the cyber and maritime, space and digital, defence, innovation, health, digital and clean-tech sectors. President Von der Leyen pointed to the Net-Zero Industry and the Critical Raw Materials Acts as examples of the EU’s determination to respond to Chinese domination of these critical sectors.Continue Reading China and Europe: De-Risking the Relationship

On 23 June 2023, the Council of the European Union (the “Council”) adopted a new package of economic sanctions against Russia. In addition to new asset-freezing designations, this eleventh package of sanctions includes new trade, transport and financial restrictive measures.

In recent weeks the UK has implemented various amendments to its existing sanctions regimes targeting Russia and Belarus, including the expansion of the UK’s Belarus-related sanctions regime to include certain restrictions previously introduced with respect to Russia and restrictions on the provision by UK persons of certain legal services.  The UK has also amended a number of General Licenses applicable to these two sanctions regimes and introduced new General Licenses, and updated aspects of its sanctions-related guidance, as detailed below.

Summary of New EU Russia Sanctions

Asset-freezing Designations

Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2023/1216 designates additional individuals and entities to the EU asset-freezing list. The new designations include Russian government and military officials as well as Russian IT companies and the two Russian banks, MRB Bank and CMR Bank, which operate in the non-government controlled Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Council Regulation (EU) 2023/1215 broadens the listing criteria upon which specific designations can be made under EU sanctions against Russia, to include, inter alia, the significant frustration of EU sanctions as a basis for designation. The regulation also introduces new derogations, including a derogation for the winding down of a Russian joint venture co-owned with the designated individual Alexey Alexandrovits Mordashov as well as a derogation allowing the disposal of certain types of securities held with specified listed entities.Continue Reading EU and UK Adopt New Sanctions Against Russia

On 29 March 2023, the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) published the draft Media Bill (the “Bill”), which will deliver on a number of legislative reforms set out in the Government’s White Paper entitled “Up Next; the Government’s vision for the broadcasting sector”, published in April 2022.

The Bill forms part of