FORMER chancellor Alistair Darling has heaped further pressure on the proposed mega-merger between defence giants BAE Systems and EADS as he said Britain should demand to retain a stake in the combined company.
Darling said Britain’s interests would be damaged if the French and German governments, which are current EADS shareholders, sought stakes while the UK did not.
He said the logic, to create a new European rival to compete with Boeing in America, was understandable but that all three governments should have shared interests.
“We will be taken to the cleaners,” he said. “I don’t see how you could have a large new company like this with the French and German governments having large direct and indirect stakes and we have none.”
BAE and EADS face a number of hurdles if the deal is to go through, with France and Germany said to be keen to keep significant equity stakes in the merged group.
It is thought Germany is insisting on taking a 9% stake to match France’s holding, which some believe could scupper the deal.
Britain holds a golden share in BAE, meaning it can veto deals that are seen to put the public interest at risk, but is not thought to have made any demands for a direct equity holding in the enlarged company.
BAE and EADS announced merger talks last month to create the world’s biggest aerospace and defence company with combined sales of £60bn and a market value of around £28bn.
The merged group would employ around 48,000 in the UK alone, although more than 400 of its 700 North East staff are likely to be gone before any merger is complete.
The firm is closing its Vickers plant in Newcastle and cutting 100 staff in Washington.
The two groups face mounting issues to see the deal through, with some major shareholders also unhappy with the deal.
French media tycoon Arnaud Lagardere, EADS chairman and whose company Lagardere owns a 7.5% stake, said earlier this week that he wanted better terms for French controlling shareholders.
Conservative MPs called for an assurance from the Prime Minister that Parliament would be given the chance to properly scrutinise the merger plan before the Government gives its approval.
In a letter organised by backbencher Ben Wallace, and signed by 45 Tory MPs, they insisted the French and German governments must give up their shareholdings to ensure British workers did not lose out as a result of political pressure if the new company sought to rationalise its plants.