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BT takeover could be back on after govt waves through French billionaire stake

Patrick Drahi of Altice  (REUTERS)
Patrick Drahi of Altice (REUTERS)

THE chances of a £20 billion takeover of BT by French billionaire Patrick Drahi grew today when the government waved away security concerns and said it would take “no further action” over his 18% stake.

Drahi’s Altice group took a 12% stake in the telecom giant a while ago, and has increased it since.

While City insiders think he is friendly to BT and its management, led by chief executive Philip Jansen, the notion that Altice might own such a crucial business caused concern at high levels.

Business secretary Kwasi Kertang said in May that he was worried enough about Drahi’s plans that he was investigating the matter under the National Security and Investment Act of 2021.

That is designed to ensure that foreign interests can’t easily take control of key UK businesses.

BT, the main provider of internet to a nation still at least partially working from home, is clearly one of those.

Today the government had said it was not investigating further, but might if Altice increases its stake once more.

Drahi and Jansen are said to get along well, with the Frenchman merely betting that BT’s income and profits will only grow in the next few years.

There remains some suspicion about his intentions however.

BT shares open today at 157p, which values the business at £15.6 billion. A £20 billion bid might excite some interest among investors.

BT has many thousands of small shareholders including staff.

In August staff at BT and Openreach, the broadband arm, announced strike action in anger over pay.

More than 40,000 of BT’s staff walked out on July 29 and August 1, the first strike action in 35 years at the telecoms group. The company awarded a £1,500 pound-a-year rise in April, a 5% increase on average, and has said it won’t be reopening its 2022 pay review.

BT shares today rose 2p to 159p.