LONDON — The takeover of British defense company Ultra Electronics by U.S. private equity firm Advent International was approved by the U.K. government on July 6.
The £2.6 billion (U.S. $3.1 billion) acquisition by Boston-based Advent comes after months of discussions in government over whether the producer of sensitive nuclear submarine systems and other defense and security equipment should be sold to a foreign entity.
The government similarly scrutinized the purchase of Cobham, a U.K. defense and aerospace company acquired by Advent in 2020, weighing risks to national security.
Media reports said U.S. officials threatened to limit intelligence cooperation if the sale was blocked by the British.
Ultra, which has a turnover of around £850 million ($1 billion) has significant business activities in the United States and “Five Eye” customers Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
The approval comes after Advent agreed to a raft of conditions required by the British before allowing the deal to go ahead.
Top of the list of conditions in a government statement issued July 6 was the creation of two new separate legal entities encompassing Ultra facilities in the U.K. that deliver sensitive equipment to the British government.
The appointment of non-executive directors in the new entities to protect national interest and provide oversight of any company moves to sell or reduce sensitive defense capabilities is another key condition.
British defense analyst Howard Wheeldon called the approval the right decision, but lamented how long it took.
“The government is absolutely right to waive this deal through and it will benefit the nation in respect of future investment in a high technology development business without the need of the executive needing to look over its shoulder at shareholders,” he said.
“Ultra Electronics is an important business to the U.K. but it is also a global business and one that is important in the United States. The U.S. threat to retaliate if the U.K. closed its doors to takeovers by international companies would I am sure have had serious consequences for U.K. companies investment in the United States,” said Wheeldon.
The decision on Ultra by the UK government’s Business Department is the second within a matter of days involving the sale of prime British engineering capability to U.S. companies.
A third major acquisition of a British concern by a U.S. corporation still awaits the nod from Government.
In late June the government said it was “minded” to accept Parker Hannifin’s £6.3 billion ($7.6 billion) bid to buy British-based aerospace and defense equipment maker Meggitt after the U.S. company accepted legally binding national security and competition undertakings.
The bid approval is subject to public consultation scheduled to end July 13.
It’s not clear what impact, if any, the current chaos in government triggered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to step down may have on the timing of pending takeover considerations.
The deal has already been approved by the European Union.
Still on the list for a government decision is whether to give the green light to Viasat’s longstanding $7.3 billion bid for Inmarsat, the British satellite services company.
Both companies have significant defense and government services activities.
Viasat announced it had reached agreement to acquire Inmarsat as far back as Nov. 5, 2021, but the U.S. communication company still awaits a call from the government in London.