The Liberal Democrat leader has demanded the Government act to protect UK firms from foreign takeovers that are not in the public interest.
Sir Vince Cable made his comments in the wake of the £3bn merger between FTSE 250 engineering software firm Aveva and French energy group Schneider Electric – first reported by Sky News.
The former Business Secretary voiced fears for the science and technology sector in particular – arguing there was a public interest defence to consider as the weak pound since the Brexit vote had made UK firms more attractive to foreign suitors.
He said: “Theresa May’s Conservatives have talked about a Cadbury’s clause to protect British companies, but where is it?
Video: Aveva merger a ‘great opportunity’
“With the pound falling by 20% due to Brexit uncertainty, there are a lot of cheap British assets that are available for takeover.
“There needs to be a new public interest defence to protect our science and technology base.”
His criticism of the Aveva/Scheider deal drew a dismissive response from Aveva’s chairman in an interview with Sky’s Ian King Live.
Philip Aiken said: “This company will still be listed in the UK, it will still have its headquarters in the UK and if you’re operating in the tech sector you’re a global business and I see this is a great opportunity to make Aveva a bigger company.
The company will be, for the shareholders, two-and-a-half times the size of the company it is today and I think it;s a great opportunity not just for Aveva but for the UK.”
He insisted there were no plans to shrink its Cambridge operations and said Aveva wanted to grow under its new partnership.
There was a similar murmur of concern for UK plc after Japan’s Softbank swooped for Cambridge-based ARM Holdings – the iPhone chip-maker – in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Its new owner said the £24.3bn deal would result in investment in the UK operation rather than a brain drain.
Ministers have said foreign buyers of UK firms should have their best interests at heart – with all undertakings legally enforceable.
They are anxious to avoid a repeat of the controversy surrounding Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury in 2010 which saw the US firm renege on promises to secure UK jobs just a week after the deal completed.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy was yet to provide a statement in response.