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Regulators are to probe the proposed £15bn tie-up between Vodafone and Three in the UK.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has called on rivals – as well as any other affected groups – to air their concerns about the deal.

The merger, announced in June, would create the UK’s biggest mobile operator, ahead of EE and Virgin Media O2.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has called on rivals – as well as any other affected groups – to air their concerns about the deal

It hopes to create a joint venture 51pc-owned by Vodafone and 49pc by Hong Kong’s CK Hutchison, owner of Three.

The two groups have promised to build ‘one of Europe’s most advanced stand-alone 5G networks’ – investing £11bn in the UK over ten years.

But the plan to bring together around 28m customers has created a backlash. Union leaders at Unite say the deal would be ‘devastating’.

Unite official Gail Cartmail said: ‘Our research shows that across the world reducing the number of mobile network operators leads to price increases and job cuts, but no increase in investment. With potential bill increases of up to £300 per year the only guarantee will be increased corporate profits. We will be making this case very strongly.’

A bid from Three to buy rival O2 was blocked in 2016 over concerns that it would stifle competition. This is likely to be a similar hurdle Three and Vodafone must pass.

Vodafone boss Margherita Della Valle has said the market had ‘moved on’ since and a deal would boost the UK’s mobile and digital infrastructure. But Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at PP Foresight, said: ‘The only chance it has of getting over the line is whether both parties can demonstrate that this is in the genuine interests for UK plc.’

Sarah Cardell, the CMA chief executive, said: ‘We will be carefully considering how this deal may affect competition in the UK, which could affect the options and prices available to customers. We will also assess how it may affect incentives to invest in the quality of UK mobile networks.’ Vodafone welcomed the move to invite views from third parties.

The CMA is launching a full-scale investigation into a tie-up between the electrical and white goods giants behind Hotpoint and Beko in Europe amid worries it could reduce choice and increase prices. It will refer Turkish firm Arcelik’s takeover of Whirlpool’s European business after both failed to address its concerns. Merging would create the UK’s biggest supplier of appliances.


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