As Scottish Power became the latest British energy company to give best to a foreign predator yesterday, the Treasury Minister Ed Balls was hustling through the Commons a new bill to give the Financial Services Authority powers to block "disproportionate" changes to the rules of the London Stock Exchange.
Paradoxically, this is intended to give the City less regulation, not more. The idea is to see that the FSA's supposed "light touch", rather than the heavy legalistic hand of the American Securities & Exchange Commission, continues to keep order in the City if Nasdaq's bid for the LSE succeeds. The rush is to make this Investment Exchanges and Clearing Houses Bill law, hopefully before Nasdaq produces its offer document. That way there can be no American moans about moving goalposts after the game has started.
The astonishing thing is that nothing like this has happened before in the great sell-off of what other countries would regard as treasured national assets these past two years. The Government actually abandoned its "golden share" in the airports company BAA to clear the way for a foreign bid.
Yesterday, as Mr Balls was hurrying MPs along, at the CBI conference where his master had been speaking half an hour earlier, a panel discussion was under way on "Globalisation and company ownership".
It was chaired by the BBC's economics editor Evan Davis, who came armed with some striking numbers. Over the past ten years there has been a brisk two-way traffic in company ownership. The British spent #395 billion buying foreign companies and foreigners staked #323 billion on ours.
Since 2004, though, the balance has tipped overwhelmingly in favour of foreign bidders. Put it down to hedge funds, if you like, buying into any and every bid situation for a quick turn, regardless of whether the price is right, let alone the bidder. Or blame the short-term opportunism of British fund managers with bonuses at stake on their half-year performance.
There are other factors. Spanish companies can write off goodwill acquired buying an overseas company against tax – hence BAA, hence Scottish Power. Above all, Britain is the only country that does nothing to stop it. We have no such thing as a vital national interest, let alone a national champion. Well, not until Mr Balls stood up yesterday.
At the CBI, Jean-Louis Beffa, chairman and chief executive of the French Saint-Gobain – owner of (British) plasterboard maker BPB and builders' merchant Jewsons – said he was amazed the Government let Americans mop up Westinghouse.
Is BAe really for sale to anyone who offers its shareholders a 20 per cent turn? Not the North Koreans, perhaps. But what if Mr Putin's Gazprom bids for National Grid?
Mr Balls has erected the first hurdle. We need money to cover that gaping trade deficit.