Competition watchdog chairman quits in frustration over reform bid

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Former Tory MP Lord Andrew Tyrie has resigned as chairman of the UK’s competition watchdog, saying the job was limiting his efforts to push for reform.

Lord Tyrie, who has previously complained that the UK’s competition law is not fit for the modern age, plans to leave the job at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in September this year after only two years in the role.

He steps down after the CMA asked the Government for greater powers, including the right to fine companies without going to court.

Lord Tyrie said: “The Government asked me to take this work forward at great pace. I have done so.

“I now want to make the case more forcefully for legislative and other reform – in Parliament and beyond – than is possible within the inherent limits of my position as CMA chairman.”

The former chairman of the powerful Commons Treasury Select Committee has been a strong proponent of changing the rules so that the CMA can go after technology companies who rip off customers.

He wrote to then business secretary Greg Clark in February last year, saying: “Despite relatively recent legislative changes, the UK has an analogue system of competition and consumer law in a digital age.”

Lord Tyrie leaves before the changes that he had proposed to Mr Clark are enacted by the Government.

He said on Thursday: “On taking the role, I was asked by the Government to map out a route to a new type of competition authority, one better equipped to understand and respond to what most concerns ordinary consumers: penalties for loyal customers, price discrimination against vulnerable consumers, the difficulties faced by millions in getting good deals online, among them.

“I was also asked to suggest ways in which the CMA could become more agile, less legally encumbered, and also with closer international ties, reflecting both the increasingly global and often digital nature of consumer detriment, and the CMA’s enhanced post-Brexit role.

“We’ve all, particularly the most senior executive team and the board, worked hard at the CMA to do that.”

It will now fall to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to find a replacement for Lord Tyrie.

“The day-to-day running of the CMA will continue under its CEO Andrea Coscelli and we will announce next steps on recruitment for a new chair in due course.”

Voices from inside the CMA have said that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic throws the UK’s laws into the spotlight.

Early in the crisis, the CMA launched a task force to monitor and clamp down on any unscrupulous business practices.

Chief executive Andrea Coscelli backed up the calls for tougher laws in March, saying: “This is obviously a time when we all have to behave responsibly to protect our fellow citizens, and particularly those who are most vulnerable.

“We urge retailers to behave responsibly in the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“But if they do not, our task force is monitoring market developments to enable us to intervene as quickly as possible.”

Notable decisions taken on Lord Tyrie’s watch include the merger between Just Eat and; Amazon’s attempts to buy a stake in Deliveroo; and blocking Sainsbury’s attempts to merge with Asda.

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