Ministers must take a stand on whether Chinese companies should be allowed to snap up British tech firms, influential think-tank urges
- Policy Exchange: PM must set out role China-backed firms can play in UK
- Report comes as Business Secretary weighs takeover of Newport Wafer Fab
- NWF makes high-tech computer chips and is one of few British firms in industry
- It attracted attention after lockdowns in China caused global shortage of chips
Ministers must take a stand on whether Chinese companies should be allowed to snap up British tech firms, an influential think-tank has urged.
The Policy Exchange, founded by former Tory MPs Nick Boles, Francis Maude and Archie Norman, said Boris Johnson must urgently set out the role that China-backed firms can play in industries vital to national security.
The think-tank’s report, written by industrial expert Sir Geoffrey Owen, comes as Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is weighing the takeover of Newport Wafer Fab (NWF) by Chinese-owned Nexperia.
Decision time: The Policy Exchange said Boris Johnson must urgently set out the role that China-backed firms can play in industries vital to national security
NWF makes high-tech computer chips, used in products for companies including Dyson and Bosch. It is one of the few British firms in the industry.
But NWF has attracted attention after lockdowns in China caused a global shortage of computer chips.
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has said it is ‘absolutely baffling’ that the sale of NWF has not yet been blocked on national security grounds.
In today’s report, Owen concluded that there was little point investing heavily to make the chip industry self-sufficient. But he said there were security concerns over allowing the UK’s intellectual property to be scooped up by a potentially ‘hostile power’.
Owen said: ‘Semiconductors will play an increasingly important role, not just as an essential component for other industries but also as a driver of progress in emerging technologies; they also make an essential contribution to national security.’
Chips have many uses in the military, he said, and will become integral to businesses. There were also several convincing reasons to block the NWF takeover, Owen added.
He said Chinese ownership of Britain’s two main chip-making plants in Newport and Manchester could make the country ‘a less trusted partner in the eyes of key countries’.
And ‘the defence-related technologies on which NWF has been working will pass into the hands of a hostile power’.
Nexperia’s backer Wingtech could also shut down NWF’s UK manufacturing and shift it to Shanghai, he added.
Owen said: ‘The Government should build on the industry’s strengths, encourage new entrants and help them to scale up.’