The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) has given some indications of how it sees its role in enforcing competition law following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Its draft annual plan, which has gone out to consultation and will be finalised shortly, suggests that the CMA expects “to take on a bigger role on the world stage post –Exit”. Key priorities include adjusting for a greater role in enforcement and merger control and international engagement and cooperation.
Separately the CMA has publicised plans for the expansion of its operations in Scotland in preparation for the UK’s withdrawal. Anticipating an increased caseload of work previously managed in Brussels, the plans involve bolstering the regulator’s Edinburgh workforce from 3 to 25-30 employees.
In a press release published on 31 January 2018, the watchdog explained that Brexit is “expected to increase [the organisation’s] merger reviews and investigations into cartels and other anti-competitive behaviours” and added that its expansion “will allow the CMA to build even stronger relationships with consumer and business groups, other regulators in Scotland as well as the Scottish Government and Parliament, and increase its capability to carry out UK-wide projects from Scotland.”
Examples of the regulator’s work outlined in the statement include a case involving Glasgow University, which no longer prevents students from graduating due to unpaid accommodation fees, and the £130,000 fine that Aberdeen-based Balmoral Tanks received for illegally exchanging price information. Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, commented that the expansion “will support our on-going work around the collaborative economy and ensure that we continue to develop our approach to consumer, competition and regulatory policy.”
The CMA does not appear to have provided further details in relation to the expansion in Scotland other than its initial announcement.
As with all matters related to Brexit, considerable uncertainty remains. What does however appear to be clear from these developments is the CMA’s intention to vigorously enforce competition law post Brexit. Of course budget and staffing issues may have an impact on these plans.