The former chair of the UK’s competition watchdog Andrew Tyrie abruptly resigned from the organisation after colleagues uneasy over his reformist agenda threatened a vote of no confidence if he did not step down, according to people briefed on the matter.
The Conservative peer unexpectedly announced his resignation on 18 June — three years before he was due to depart — citing frustrations with the “inherent limits” of his role. At the time Lord Tyrie indicated he was moving on to lobby more freely for the consumer-orientated reforms he had called for at the watchdog.
Lord Tyrie, known for his caustic interrogation style as chair of the House of Commons Treasury select committee, clashed with other CMA board members over his desire to lead campaigns and implement changes to the structure of the agency.
“[Andrew] felt he was sold a job where he could be an advocate for the consumer and when he got in there he realised he was chairman of quite a technocratic body,” said one individual close to the agency.
The former chair, who earned a reputation as “a hard taskmaster”, according to one former government adviser, provoked opposition over his desire to reform the watchdog’s structure. Both he and the CMA declined to comment. The circumstances surrounding his departure were first reported by Sky News.
The CMA relies on independent panels for decisions on its in-depth merger investigations, ensuring a check on any potential pressure from the top of the agency. Colleagues said Lord Tyrie wanted the CMA to shift to a “house view” — akin to the European Commission’s competition directorate — with a strongly pro-competition bias, and felt the structure of the organisation did not permit this.
“He sees himself as a radical,” said one competition lawyer with knowledge of the situation. “There are some people who embraced that within the organisation . . . but he had unconventional tactics for dealing with companies.”
Lord Tyrie introduced a more politicised approach to the CMA’s work. His plans to turn it into a consumer champion with beefed-up powers — elaborated in a letter to the government last year — also proved controversial in some competition circles. He also wanted to take power away from the courts by fining companies and individuals directly for consumer rights breaches. Those pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears.
Lord Tyrie was known at Westminster for having a dry, abrasive manner. “He is quite annoying and self-obsessed,” said one person grilled by him at the Treasury select committee after the financial crash. “But he’s pro-competition, so in that respect he’s a loss.”
The CMA is due this week to report on potential harm triggered by the dominance of tech companies like Google and Facebook in the online advertising sector — an issue Mr Tyrie had previously spoken out on.
In March Lord Tyrie said the watchdog had not been tough enough on digital mergers and said large tech platforms could “destroy a small business with a change to an algorithm”.