Government’s links with Pfizer deal-brokers under the spotlight

PM and science minister among those with close relationships with US giant’s advisers

The links between Pfizer and the Government has come under the spotlight as it emerged that the US drugs giant’s public relations and lobbying campaign for its takeover bid for AstraZeneca was being led by a company chaired by a close friend of the Prime Minister.

Furthermore, the City bank advising it has paid for luxury hotel stays for the science minister David Willetts and his wife at a pensions conference it organised in relation to Mr Willetts’s work on pensions policy.

When the takeover bid was announced, the Government took a relaxed view, and ministers applauded the Pfizer chief executive’s letter last week promising to support British science. That early welcome, particularly from Mr Willetts, quickly led to accusations that the Government was “cheerleading” for a company known for cutting jobs after big takeovers.

Sir Alan Parker’s PR and political lobbying firm Brunswick, which is advising Pfizer on its bid, is one of the most powerful in the City.

Knighted in the New Year Honours in January, Sir Alan had David Cameron as guest of honour at his 50th birthday party, and has holidayed with him. He accompanied the Prime Minister on a trade mission to China in December.

Meanwhile, Mr Willetts’s register of members’ interests shows that he, and sometimes his wife, the artist Sarah Butterfield, were put up by the investment bank JPMorgan at the Gleneagles Hotel in 2011, 2012 and 2013 at a total cost of £5,400, including transport, while Mr Willetts attended pensions conferences there. In 2006, he received hospitality of “up to £5,000” in a similar fashion for the conference by the bank.

JPMorgan’s London team has been retained to give Pfizer financial advice on the deal.

David Willetts: the science minister’s office said his visit had ‘no connection’ to JPMorgan’s role advising on the Pfizer deal David Willetts: the science minister’s office said his visit had ‘no connection’ to JPMorgan’s role advising on the Pfizer deal (PA)
Brunswick and JPMorgan are two of the most established interfaces between the City and Westminster on both sides of the political divide. JPMorgan pays the former Prime Minister Tony Blair an estimated £2m a year to work as an adviser, while Sir Alan is also friends with Gordon Brown – the former Labour premier is godfather to the spin-doctor’s son.

A spokesperson for Mr Willetts said: “The JPMorgan conference focuses exclusively on pensions and Mr Willetts attends because of his long-standing involvement in pensions policy. This is recorded in the register of members’ interests and has no connection to JPMorgan’s current role advising Pfizer.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM is fighting for British jobs and British science. It is total nonsense to suggest the fact he knows Alan Parker is anything to do with the current Pfizer bid.” Tory sources also pointed out that AstraZeneca was being advised by the PR firm run by Roland Rudd, who is seen as being close to the Labour Party, which has called for a national-interest test on the deal.

This week, it emerged that Mark Textor, a strategist who has worked for the Tories, has also advised Pfizer. Mr Textor’s business partner is Lynton Crosby, Mr Cameron’s election campaigns director. Tory sources have also pointed out that a Labour donor, Baroness Vadera, sits on AstraZeneca’s board of directors.

More high-profile scientists went public with their opposition to a Pfizer takeover. Professor Michael Arthur, president of University College London, told The Independent: “My biggest fear is that Pfizer makes all these promises about keeping the science going in this country, succeeds in taking over AstraZeneca, then closes down its UK research facilities, lays off British scientists and sees one of the jewels in the crown of industry in this country nullified.”

Professor David Nutt, the former government drugs adviser who now runs the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College, said Pfizer’s attempted takeover would be “disastrous”. He added: “AstraZeneca is a massive player in the London-Oxford-Cambridge golden triangle of research. Pfizer’s track record is buy and destroy.”

The US firm has pledged to employ at least 20 per cent of its research staff in the UK and to press ahead with AstraZeneca’s plans to build a £300m science base in Cambridge. But Professor Arthur warned: “Pfizer has two elements in its history that are worrying to British science. Firstly, in each of its other corporate takeovers, it has taken over companies and closed down their research facilities and laid off scientists and hi-tech staff. Each case has involved over 10,000 job losses – that would devastate British science.”

Tonight, Britain’s biggest research foundation, the Wellcome Trust, became the most powerful scientific group to come out in opposition to the bid when a letter its chairman and director wrote to George Osborne was leaked.

Sir William Castell and Jeremy Farrar told the Chancellor they had “major concerns”. “We are acutely aware of the critical role which AstraZeneca plays in the UK’s life-sciences ecosystem… Pfizer’s past acquisitions of major pharmaceuticals companies have led to a substantial reduction in [research and development] activity, which we are concerned could be replicated in this instance.”

While they welcomed Pfizer’s early assurance on UK research jobs, they said it was “critical” that the Government made the US company stick to it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Life and Style
Stepping back in time: The Robshaws endured the privations of the 1950s
food + drinkNew BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?