MICHAEL HARRISON, Industrial Editor
Wednesday, 16 March 1994
IF THE sale of Rover to BMW marks Britain’s industrial Dunkirk, as the banners outside lamented, then the small army of British Aerospace shareholders opposed to the deal retreated beaten but not bloodied, and much less bowed yesterday.
The pounds 800m sale of Britain’s only remaining volume car maker into German hands was approved overwhelmingly by an extraordinary meeting of BAe shareholders in London after institutions had weighed in to back the deal. But not before 200 disgruntled small shareholders had vented their anger against the BAe board.
Outside the meeting at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in Hyde Park, a tiny knot of protesters representing the Keep Rover British campaign and the UK Independence Party had gathered to give BAe a foretaste of what to expect. Sheltering behind a skip, their Union flags fluttering in the breeze, the small group held aloft placards warning that the sale would mean ‘the death of British industry’.
Inside the Royal Lancaster the reception was scarcely less hostile. The hall was thick with accusations of betrayal, incompetence and short-sightedness – most of them aimed at John Cahill, BAe’s departing chairman. Shareholder after shareholder stood up to condemn the deal as ‘offensive’, ‘insensitive’ and ‘deplorable’.
What written assurances had BAe got from BMW that Rover jobs, production and technology would be preserved?, one asked. None, the BAe board conceded. ‘At least Neville Chamberlain got a piece of paper,’ came the reply.
The sale was rejected by 111 to 42 votes on a show of hands but the big institutions weighed in with their proxy votes to approve the deal by 119.6 million shares to 2.9 million shares against – a majority of nearly 98 per cent.