The ‘asset strippers’ set to buy British engineering giant GKN could be forced to sign legal agreements promising not to sell its crucial aerospace division, it emerged last night.
Melrose narrowly won approval for its controversial £8billion takeover on Thursday, but the deal is being closely scrutinised by defence chiefs.
There are growing hopes it could be blocked by ministers on national security grounds.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who expressed ‘serious’ reservations in February, is said to be particularly concerned over sensitive contracts held by GKN.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson expressed ‘serious’ reservations over sensitive contracts held by GKN
The firm’s aerospace division, which once made Spitfires, makes components for F-35 jets and Typhoon aircraft. Critics have urged Business Secretary Greg Clark to stop the takeover.
He is expected to listen to advice from the Ministry of Defence in the coming days and weeks before deciding whether to intervene.
In a letter to Mr Clark on Tuesday, Melrose had said it would be willing to agree to binding pledges that would protect the aerospace arm.
But the promise was not included in a list of undertakings made to the UK Takeover Panel, published a day later.
This weekend, it emerged Melrose may agree to offer legal guarantees not to sell the division for a period of time – in a bid to assuage doubts and force the deal through.
Labour MP Jack Dromey is urging the Government to stop it or extract cast-iron guarantees that Melrose will not sell the aerospace division.
He said yesterday: ‘The MoD is looking at this deal very seriously to see what the strategic implications will be. A five-year commitment from Melrose not to sell the aerospace division is worthless.
‘Typically research and development and production times in defence vary from ten to 15 years in timescales … if this takeover goes ahead, Britain’s strategic defence interests would be put at risk.’
Melrose chief Simon Peckham yesterday insisted bosses were ‘here to protect national security, not damage it’. ‘We will give any undertakings the Government requires on that,’ he added. ‘We are all British. We live here and our families live here … we are as concerned about national security as anyone else.’
GKN makes parts for the Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache helicopters, which are all used by the American military, as well as for secret US Air Force projects. The US also provided the bulk of funding for the F-35 jet programme.