Thursday 19 November 2020 11:47 am

UK competition watchdog launches probe into O2-Virgin Media merger

The UK competition watchdog has opened an investigation into the planned £31bn mega-merger between O2 and Virgin Media after the deal was referred from the EU.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last month requested to take over the case, arguing the potential impact on competition would primarily affect the UK market.

Read more: Competition watchdog requests probe into Virgin-O2 merger

The watchdog has now launched a phase one investigation into the tie-up between parent companies Telefonica and Liberty Global after the European Commission granted the referral.

“We welcome the European Commission’s decision to transfer the proposed deal between Virgin and O2 to the CMA for investigation,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli.

“These are incredibly important UK markets that continue to evolve, and the deal needs to be carefully reviewed to make sure that consumers are protected.”

Virgin and O2 have asked the watchdog to fast-track its investigation to the in-depth phase two stage. Companies are allowed to request this when it is clear from an early stage that the deal requires closer scrutiny.

The CMA said it expects to accept this request unless it receives any valid objections.

The regulator has previously outlined concerns that the merger could harm competition in the telecoms sector – particularly in the retail and wholesale mobile markets.

The transaction originally fell under the remit of the EU to review, but the CMA argued the deal was more relevant to the UK, adding that any effect would only be felt once the Brexit transition period had ended.

Read more: Virgin Media boosts customer numbers ahead of O2 merger

The CMA is now inviting views by 26 November on how the deal could impact competition. 

“We have been in close contact with the CMA and Ofcom throughout this process and are confident the transition will be seamless,” Telefonica and Liberty said in a joint statement.

“Our view remains that this transaction is pro-competitive and we continue to expect closing around the middle of next year.”