London gets final say in £31bn merger between O2 and Virgin Media

The UK’s competition watchdog is set to review the planned £31 billion merger of the companies behind Virgin Media and O2 after Brussels-based regulators handed over the reins ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU.

The European Commission said it would allow the Competition and Markets Authority to deal with potential concerns under UK law.

The decision hands the CMA one of its biggest ever cases as the UK prepares for life outside the European Union.

Under European law, the biggest mergers are generally dealt with by the commission’s regulators in Brussels.

The CMA had asked Brussels regulators, led by competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, to hand the case back.

The authority argued that the merger, between Telefonica and Liberty Global, is only likely to affect customers in the UK, and that any findings would come after the transition period had ended.

The commission agreed that it was sensible for London regulators to take control after it concluded that “the proposed transaction threatens to affect competition in the telecommunications sector in the UK”.

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

“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.

“We have worked closely with the European Commission so far and we will build on the work that has already been carried out to make sure that the case can be investigated as quickly and efficiently as possible.”