Thomas Cook’s move to speed up its retail merger with The Cooperative Travel and Midlands Cooperative by seeking a fast-track referral to the Competition Commission may end with a further one month delay to the process.

The Thomas Cook group announced yesterday that the merger parties had applied to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to fast-track anti-trust approval to the Competition Commission (CC) after concluding such a referral appears inevitable.

The OFT confirmed receiving the request while it considers whether the merger may “result in a substantial lessening of competition . . . that warrants reference to the Competition Commission”.

However, the OFT can decide against a speedy referral, for which it confirmed last night that there is no precedent – no company having previously made such a request.

The OFT will now take a minimum of 10 working days to decide on fast-tracking the merger, making March 1 the earliest date for a referral.

However, the OFT also confirmed that the deadline for a decision if it refuses Thomas Cook’s request has been put back from March 10 to April 4 after its deliberations were suspended during discussions with the merger parties.

Fontenla-Novoa said: “We feel proceeding straight to the Competition Commission should provide us with the right answer most quickly.”

The merger between Thomas Cook, The Cooperative Travel and Midlands Cooperative Society would create the biggest chain of high street travel agents in the UK.