Regulations and rules are stifling British tech

Microsoft logo is seen on a smartphone placed on displayed Activision Blizzard logo

Microsoft logo is seen on a smartphone placed on displayed Activision Blizzard logo

After Brexit, Remainers predicted that the UK would become a regulatory free-for-all, mischaracterised as Singapore-on-Thames. Proponents were looking forward to removing the dead hand of Brussels strangling the UK’s pent-up entrepreneurial zeal.

Yet it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Business leaders have criticised the Government’s lack of ambition and the rise in corporation tax. Sir James Dyson, the billionaire inventor, recently denounced the “scandalous neglect” of the science and technology sectors. The promise to make Britain a leader in the field has turned out to be nothing more than a political slogan, he said. Regulators have been accused by tech bosses of excessive rule-making, driving businesses abroad.

What, then, is to be made of the decision by regulators in Brussels to nod through a merger between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, the UK-based video games studio behind the Call of Duty franchise?

The £55 billion deal has been blocked in Britain by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on the grounds that it could make Microsoft an even more dominant player in cloud gaming, stifling competitiveness.

On the face of it, the decision by EU regulators is anti-competitive, which would be all of a piece with a regime that favours the growth of monopolies. But that is not how it is seen by those in the industry. When the CMA ruling was announced, Activision reacted furiously, arguing that it showed how the UK was closed to growth businesses and putting investment at risk.

Ministers, who have been trumpeting the case for tech investment in the UK, have been strangely silent, probably because Activision is planning an appeal.

It has come to something when the sector’s bosses prefer the regulatory approach of Brussels to that of post-Brexit Britain.

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