Matthew Hall Questions Suspending UK Competition Law to Ease Fuel Shortages

October 11, 2021

McGuireWoods London partner Matthew Hall wrote an article published Oct. 7, 2021, in The Times, opining on the UK government’s decision to suspend the application of competition law to agreements in the fuel distribution sector to alleviate supply shortfalls.

A provision of the Competition Act 1998 allows exclusions to the UK law’s general ban on anticompetitive agreements between competitors for “exceptional and compelling reasons of public policy,” Hall explained in the article, titled “Fuel queues are no excuse for suspending competition law.” He added, however, that the clause was intended to be used only in rare circumstances.

“There are clear benefits to having a strong and well-enforced competition law, something this and previous governments have consistently recognized,” he noted. “Competition between businesses gives rise to innovation, lower prices and higher quality, to the benefit of consumers, so rivals should as a general rule not collude or exchange sensitive information.”

Given its importance, the law should be set aside only in extreme circumstances, he said, as it was during the pandemic to maintain food supply chains, and not for temporary situations such as the current challenges to fuel distribution.

He concluded: “Competition law should not be seen as an inconvenience to be set aside quickly at the first hint of a crisis and following some good lobbying.”