Competition law comprises three main areas: anti-trust law, merger control and State aid. The two key anti-trust provisions are the prohibitions on (i) agreements which distort or restrict competition; and (ii) the abuse of dominant positions.
The anti-trust laws will remain basically the same except that they will apply purely in a UK context and the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) will no longer have the power to enforce EU competition law in the UK. The UK merger regime will remain unaffected except that the CMA will have jurisdiction to investigate more mergers because the EU Merger Regulation “one stop shop” for pan European mergers will no longer apply in the UK.
In theory, EU State aid rules might cease to be applicable in the UK and there are currently no equivalent UK law provisions. The UK may, therefore, be free to introduce for example tax reliefs that could count as State aid. However, in practice, it is questionable whether the UK Government would wish to do this to any great extent, as to do so would conflict with the UK’s general economic approach to free trade.
There would still be various impacts for UK businesses. First, the EU competition law regime will still apply to them in respect of business they conduct in the EU and where their conduct has an effect on trade in the EU. It will be more difficult for the EU to investigate UK companies though, because they will no longer have the power to raid UK business premises. Second, there is much greater potential for parallel EU and UK investigations into multi-jurisdictional mergers and anti-trust breaches. This may result in more legal fees and higher fines for businesses, as well as the risk of conflicting decisions.