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Jobs threat at UK defence supplier Meggitt as it agrees £6.3bn takeover

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Engineering firm, which operates in aerospace and energy markets, backs deal with Parker Hannifin

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Meggitt after it agreed a £6.3bn takeover deal from US rival Parker Hannifin, in the latest approach for a UK-listed company from an overseas buyer.

The board of Meggitt, the FTSE 250 engineering company that operates in the aerospace, defence and energy markets, has unanimously recommended that shareholders accept the 800p-a-share deal, which the UK government says it is closely monitoring.

The offer is at a 71% premium on Meggitt’s closing share price on Friday. Meggitt’s share price had soared by more than 56% to 735p by mid-afternoon on Monday as investors reacted to the news, helping lift the FTSE 250 index of medium-sized firms to a record closing high.

As part of the deal, Parker, which employs more than 2,100 staff in 18 facilities across the UK, has made a number of legally binding contractual commitments to the government to protect Meggitt’s operations.

These include keeping Meggitt’s UK headquarters in Coventry; maintaining the headcount in its research and development, product engineering and manufacturing operations; ensuring most of the company’s board are UK nationals; and increasing research and development expenditure by a fifth during the next five years. However, Parker will look to cut jobs in areas not protected by the legal guarantees. Tom Williams, the Parker chairman and chief executive, said that a significant number of Meggitt’s approximately 2,000 UK staff would be protected from the cuts.

“Any transaction of this size, or any transaction period, typically has some overlap between the two businesses,” he said. “We are going to evaluate all the talent, all the people … and our intention is to put the best of both companies [together].”

The deal documents highlight areas of overlap between the two businesses “particularly in central corporate and support functions and a reduced need for roles currently supporting Meggitt’s status as a public listed company at Meggitt’s UK headquarters”. The operational review “may result in headcount reductions or relocation of Meggitt employees”, it added.

The acquisition of Meggitt, which is a defence supplier to the UK government and provides components for US F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, will almost double Parker’s aerospace operation.

“We are committed to being a responsible steward of Meggitt and are pleased our acquisition has the full support of Meggitt’s board,” Williams said. “We fully understand these responsibilities and are making a number of strong commitments that reflect them.”

However, all of Parker’s legal commitments are binding for only one year, Williams told reporters, except for the R&D investment pledge, which has a five-year guarantee. Williams said Parker did not intend to renege on guarantees after they expire.

“I see no reason why we would ever move the UK headquarters,” he said. “These are going to be commitments that will be there for a long time. We are a strategic buyer, we are builders. If you were to benchmark this total offer – our binding commitments in addition to our financial offer – I think you would find it stands in a place of its own compared to other transactions.”

He added that the deal was structured in anticipation of the upcoming National Security and Investment Act, which gives the UK government the power to protect important national assets from foreign takeovers.

“We are very conscious of it,” Williams said. “That is why we have framed the binding commitments as we did in such a way that they would be supported by all stakeholders.”

The UK government said it was closely monitoring the deal. “Under the Enterprise Act 2002, the business secretary has powers to intervene in mergers and takeovers which raise national security concerns,” a government spokesperson said, according to Reuters.

“While commercial transactions remain primarily a matter for the parties involved, the government is closely monitoring the proposed acquisition of Meggitt by Parker-Hannifin.”

Last month, the government announced a review of the proposed purchase of Newport Wafer Fab, the UK’s largest producer of semiconductors, by a Chinese-owned manufacturer.

The government is also scrutinising the takeover of the Cambridge-headquartered chip designer Arm by the US chip company Nvidia on national security grounds.

In July, the defence group Ultra Electronics signalled it was “minded to recommend” a provisional £2.6bn takeover offer from the US private equity-backed company Cobham.

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“The UK takeover spree continues to move at pace,” said Russ Mould, the investment director at AJ Bell. “UK stocks have long been considered cheap, and this year’s merger and acquisition spree shows that overseas investors have finally got enough confidence to pounce on opportunities after years of showing little interest in the market.”

Sir Nigel Rudd, the Meggitt chairman, said that the takeover would “accelerate and de-risk” its growth plans.

“Meggitt is one of the world’s foremost aerospace, defence and energy businesses, leading the market with a strong portfolio of technology and manufacturing capabilities, and holding a significant amount of intellectual property,” Rudd said. “While Meggitt is currently pursuing a strong, standalone strategy which will deliver value to shareholders over the long term, Parker’s offer provides the opportunity to significantly accelerate and de-risk those plans while continuing to deliver for shareholders.”

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Unmasked: man behind cult set to replace QAnon

The mysterious individual behind a new and rapidly growing online disinformation network targeting followers of QAnon, the far-right cult, can be revealed as a Berlin-based artist with a history of social media manipulation, a prominent anti-racism group claims.

Since Donald Trump left the White House, QAnon’s vast online community has been in a state of flux as it comes to terms with the reality that its conspiracy theories – such as the former US president being destined to defeat a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles – amount to nothing.

That may explain why significant numbers have turned to a new far-right network, found mostly on the Telegram messaging app, that is growing quickly in the UK and globally and has amassed more than one million subscribers so far this year.

Sebastian Bieniek in a blue shirt and jeans, sitting on a director's chair
Sebastian Bieniek in 2018. The campaign group Hope Not Hate says he has a track record of inventing online conspiracies. Photograph: Reza Mahmoudidschad

Called the Sabmyk Network, like QAnon it is a convoluted conspiracy theory that features fantastical elements and is headed by a mysterious messianic figure. Since its emergence there has been widespread speculation about who that figure might be. The person who first posted as “Q” has never been positively identified.

This week the British anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate will unmask Sabmyk’s leader, who it claims is 45-year-old German art dealer Sebastian Bieniek. It says Bieniek – who has not responded to questions from the Observer – has a history of creating online conspiracies and even wrote a book in 2011 called RealFake that detailed a campaign to deceptively promote his work.

But Hope Not Hate says the speed of Sabmyk’s growth serves as a warning of the opportunities for manipulation that exist on social media, particularly unregulated alt-tech platforms such as Telegram.

Gregory Davis of Hope Not Hate, which will publish its annual report into the far right on Monday, said: “His success in developing such a huge audience is a reminder that the QAnon template of anonymous online manipulation will continue to pose a threat in the years to come.”

Since 21 December last year, when Sabmyk was supposedly “awakened”, more than 136 channels in English, German, Japanese, Korean and Italian have sprung up, adding tens of thousands of followers on a daily basis.

Much of Sabmyk’s content is designed to appeal to QAnon followers; it features Covid mask scepticism, anti-vaccine conspiracies and false assertions that the 2020 US election was stolen from Trump.

Some is also designed to actively recruit Britons: one Sabmyk channel, the British Patriotic Party, uses the same branding as anti-Muslim group Britain First and posts about the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Other channels are entitled London Post and Liverpool Times, as well as the Great Awakening UK, a reference to a well-known QAnon trope predicting a day of reckoning in which Trump would rise against his liberal enemies. Others include WWG1WGA, an acronym for the QAnon rallying call “where we go one, we go all.”

Among the clues used to identify Bieniek are posts saying that the messiah Sabmyk can be identified by specific marks on his body. One post claimed that Sabmyk would have “17 V-shaped scars” on his arm, the result of a “prophetic ceremony at the age of 24”.

What is QAnon and why is it so dangerous? – video explainer
What is QAnon and why is it so dangerous? – video explainer

Hope Not Hate has found a since-deleted section on Bieniek’s website recalling a 1999 art exhibit in which, aged 24, he cut V-shaped wounds into his arm for 16 days in a row.

Attempts to connect Sabmyk to Trump have been made, including a clip that splices together instances of the former president saying “17”, and a doctored image showing him with a Sabmyk pamphlet in his suit pocket.

Bieniek has created countless false identities, according to the Hope Not Hate investigation, to promote his career as an artist. The group also says his German Wikipedia page has been deleted at least four times, most recently in January.

A list of Bieniek’s accounts has been sent to platforms including Telegram with a call for them to be removed on the basis of “inauthentic and coordinated platform manipulation”. Telegram has been approached for comment.

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