Cable, Burned by News Corp. Sting, Vows Silence on BAE-EADS

U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable
Vince Cable, U.K. business secretary. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable, who came close to losing his job in 2010 after he was secretly recorded discussing News Corp.’s bid for British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, pledged not to offer any view on the proposed merger between BAE Systems Plc and European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co.

“I have views obviously, and I know the companies concerned,” Cable said in an interview yesterday at his Liberal Democrat party’s conference in Brighton on England’s south coast. “But for reasons which you will very well understand, I may well be asked to make a ruling on the takeover or merger depending on how it occurs, and I have a quasi-judicial role in those contexts, so it would be completely wrong to express a view for or against.”

Cable’s 2010 remark that he’d “declared war” on News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, made to two newspaper reporters he believed were constituents at a private meeting in his London electoral district, led to him being stripped of responsibility for deciding if the BSkyB bid should be allowed to go ahead. The then culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was given the job. Hunt was himself criticized by the opposition Labour Party for previous expressions of support for News Corp., which abandoned the takeover last year.

The business secretary’s department manages the U.K.’s “golden share” in BAE, which gives it an effective veto over any change of ownership. Cable could also be called upon to decide whether to refer the deal to the Competition Commission, as he was with News Corp.

“Obviously government has an interest in this, that’s perfectly clear, because there’s a lot of national-security issues involved and there’s also major employment issues involved,” Cable said. “I acknowledge the importance of that, but I’m not passing a judgment on the proposal. It hasn’t actually been crystallized yet.”

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