Microsoft Threatened to Close U.K. Plants, Ex-Cameron Aide Says

Microsoft Corp. threatened to close its research facilities in Britain if the government went ahead with plans to promote open-source software, one of David Cameron’s former advisers said.

Steve Hilton, who was the prime minister’s director of strategy until 2012, told an event in London Wednesday that when the Conservative Party proposed shifting government computer systems to open standards, the software giant began intensive lobbying of members of Parliament. Open tools have few restrictions, allowing users to move away from expensive proprietary software contracts.

“Microsoft phoned Conservative MPs with Microsoft R&D facilities in their constituencies and said we will close them down in your constituencies if this goes through,” Hilton said. “We just resisted. You have to be brave.”

Hilton didn’t give further details, and Microsoft declined to comment.

Microsoft opposed the policy, which took effect in 2014 and is aimed at ending the dominant position the company’s Office software currently has on government computers.

Rohan Silva, a former aide to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, said in a 2014 speech that the company had made threats when the policy was first announced in 2007.

Hilton was promoting his new book, “More Human.” His wife, Rachel Whetstone, the head of Microsoft rival Google Inc.’s public policy and communications unit, is to become a senior vice president at Uber Technologies Inc., Uber said on May 13.

Microsoft has recently softened its approach to open source, making some of its own code available using open source licenses and adding support for several different types of Linux into its cloud software. At an April conference, the company encouraged developers of Linux-based applications to run them in Microsoft’s Azure cloud.