This morning, the European Competition Commission blocked the proposed merger of O2 and Three mobile.
The £10.5bn deal, which would have created the UK’s largest mobile phone operator, was blocked on the grounds that it would have reduced competition and meant less choice for consumers.
While the ruling was made at European level, the merger would have had serious implications for the UK’s mobile telecoms market, as it would have left us with only three major mobile providers.
That lack of competition would very likely have pushed up prices and reduced the quality of service that each provider must offer to remain competitive.
I've run my own small business in the past and welcome competition, knowing that it makes us all better: the same should apply to the big boys.
The EU: Standing up for British consumers
This decision shows how important the EU is in standing up for British consumers and smaller market players.
While the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority had asked previously for jurisdiction over the O2-Three decision, in reality it was less able than the international EU to stand up to international companies. Any company that enjoys access to the world’s most lucrative market – which the EU currently provides – must accept healthy competition. It is access to that market that is now at stake in the referendum.
I have seen big companies in the UK bullying both competitors and regulators that just isn’t possible at EU level.
Sky and News International support the O2-Three deal; it would help them enter to the market via an already agreed deal with O2 next year. Rupert Murdoch has reportedly explained his opposition to the EU by saying: "When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice."
If we want a level playing field for business, the impartiality of a strong global institution is vital.
This blocked merger joins a long list of anti-competitive mergers stuck down by the EU. The Commissioner blocked the merger of Ryanair and Aer Lingus three times to protect consumers. They even stood up to the USA regulators when it blocked a takeover by electricity giant General Electric of Honeywell.
The EU is by no means perfect, and I understand when businesses complain to me about Brussels zeal for red tape, but, the case of O2 and Three shows how valuable membership is. That’s another reason I will vote to Remain on 23 June.