Sophie Albrighton advises clients on all aspects of competition law, including merger control, market investigations, cartel investigations, abuse of dominance, and state aid. She regularly advises clients on EU, UK and multi-jurisdictional merger control and foreign direct investment. She also has extensive experience advising clients subject to investigations by various competition regulators in the EU and the UK, as well as developing and carrying out bespoke compliance training for clients in sectors including media, FMCG, retail, energy, travel, and financial services.

On 22 June 2022, the EU’s General Court (“GC”) fully dismissed thyssenkrupp’s appeal against the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decision to block its proposed joint venture (“JV”) with Tata Steel in 2019.

This is the first time that the GC has considered the prohibition of a “gap” case under the EU Merger Regulation (“EUMR”) since it annulled the Commission’s prohibition of CK Hutchison’s proposed acquisition of Telefónica UK (O2) in 2020 (“CK Hutchison”) (see our previous blog post here). A “gap” case is a merger in an oligopolistic market that does not result in the creation or strengthening of an individual or collective dominant position. Rather, it risks causing a “significant impediment to effective competition”.

This result may indicate a return to a more traditional approach by the GC as regards “gap” cases than that demonstrated in the CK Hutchison judgment. The judgment also provides helpful guidance on the interpretation of the EUMR and other legal instruments (such as the Market Definition Notice and the Notice on Remedies). The key findings are:

  • Standard of proof: In order to block a “gap” merger, the Commission must show with a sufficient degree of probability that the transaction significantly impedes effective competition in the internal market or in a substantial part of it.
  • SSNIP test: The Commission is not required to apply the SSNIP (small but significant and non-transitory increase in price) test when assessing substitutability between products — it is only one of the methods available to the Commission when defining the market.
  • Remedies: When assessing remedies, it is not necessary to demonstrate that the remedies remove the entire overlap between the merging parties or re-create fully the pre-merger structure in affected markets.
  • Requests for Information (“RFI”): There is no procedural error where the Commission fails to take additional steps (beyond sending systematic reminders) to ensure that recipients respond to an RFI.


Continue Reading EU General Court Upholds Tata Steel/thyssenkrupp JV Prohibition

When the UK left the EU on 31 December 2020, the Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) gained new powers, functions and responsibilities previously exclusively reserved to the European Commission (the “Commission”).

This blog explores how the CMA has tackled its increased workload in the first year post-Brexit, under the shadow of the global pandemic, and the extent to which the CMA’s practice has diverged from EU law.

Continue Reading Trends, developments and divergence from EU law? The CMA’s first year as a global competition authority

On 3 November, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) issued a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to replace the EU Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation or ” VABER” with a UK Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Order (“UK Order”) when the VABER expires on 31 May 2022.  The VABER (which provides a safe harbour from the prohibition against anti-competitive agreements for vertical agreements that meet the applicable requirements) formed part of retained EU law following Brexit, but its upcoming expiry triggers the need for a UK Order to be issued in its place.

Continue Reading The UK CMA publishes its recommendation for replacing the retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation

On 20 July 2021, the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (“DCMS”) and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (“BEIS”) published proposals for a new regulatory regime for digital markets alongside accompanying consultation documents (the “Consultation”).  The Consultation seeks views from interested parties and closes on 1 October 2021.

Continue Reading New UK Digital Competition Regulation Regime Consultation Closes on 1 October 2021

Covington’s four-part video series offers snapshot briefings on key emerging trends in UK Competition Law. In part four, James Marshall and Sophie Albrighton look across the horizon at the CMA’s plans for the future: what are the proposed reforms for competition law in the UK, what is the CMA looking to do post-pandemic, what are

Covington’s four-part video series offers snapshot briefings on key emerging trends in UK Competition Law. In part three, James Marshall and Sophie Albrighton discuss digital markets, one of the key areas of focus of competition authorities around the world today, including in the UK. They are joined by guest speaker Martin Hansen, Of Counsel in

The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) is consulting on its proposed recommendation to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to replace the retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation (“retained VABER”) with a new UK Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Order (“VABEO”).

The retained VABER is the European Commission Regulation No 330/2010, which was incorporated into UK law when the UK left the EU.  The retained VABER currently provides a safe harbour for a wide range of vertical agreements, subject to certain thresholds being met. It expires on 31 May 2022 and is under review for replacement by the European Commission. Following Brexit, businesses will not benefit from any replacement to the VABER at EU level in relation to their UK activities.  The CMA has therefore consulted with businesses, industry associations and professional advisers to consider whether a UK-specific equivalent is required.  Following this initial consultation process, the CMA recommends introducing a UK-specific equivalent VABEO from 1 June 2022.
Continue Reading What you need to know about the CMA’s consultation on the Retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation

Covington’s four-part video series offers snapshot briefings on key emerging trends in UK Competition Law. In part two, James Marshall and Sophie Albrighton focus on current trends in enforcement and litigation. They are joined by guest speaker Louise Freeman, co-chair of Covington’s Commercial Litigation and European Dispute Resolution Practice Groups, who has extensive experience

Covington’s four-part video series offers snapshot briefings on key emerging trends in UK Competition Law. In the first part, James Marshall and Sophie Albrighton focus on current trends in merger control. They are joined by guest speaker Louise Nash, Corporate Partner in Covington’s London office with over 20 years’ experience of global acquisitions, divestitures

On 16 February, John Penrose MP published his long-awaited report into the UK’s competition regime.  Penrose was tasked by the UK Government with reviewing how the UK’s competition regime can:

  1. Play a central role in meeting the challenges of the post COVID-19 economy and in driving recovery.  The Government’s Policy Paper stated that “the pandemic is the biggest threat the UK has faced in decades and overcoming it will require all the dynamism and creativity that exists across all sectors and in all regions and nations of the UK“;
  2. Contribute to the Government’s aim of levelling up across all nations and regions of the UK;
  3. Increase consumer trust, including by meeting the Conservative Party’s 2019 Manifesto commitment to tackle bad business practices, and ensure the competition regime is strong, swift, flexible and proportionate;
  4. Support UK disruptors taking risks on new ideas and challenging incumbents; and
  5. Make best use of data, technology and digital skills which are vital to the modern economy.


Continue Reading Proposals published for radical overhaul of UK competition regime following Brexit