Ed Miliband has called for an inquiry into the proposed takeover of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca by American drugs giants Pfizer, to assess whether the deal will have a national benefit.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr show, the Labour leader said that “no other country in the world would wave the bid through,” and that there needed to be detailed assessments to ensure the deal, which would be the biggest takeover of a British company by a foreign bidder, would benefit British citizens.
He also questioned Pfizer’s history of business deals in Britain, calling their record “dubious” and saying that the assurances they had given to the government were “pretty weak.”
The comments come in the week that Miliband wrote a letter to the Prime Minister accusing the government of being “cheerleaders” to the deal and asking him to ensure that “substantive assessments” would be made to make sure that 20% of the company’s research and development jobs would remain in Britain.
In the letter he said: “I am strongly of the view that, when it comes to such a strategically important part of UK PLC, we need a more substantive assessment of whether this takeover is in the national economic interest before the UK government allows itself to be seen to be supporting it."
"In this particular bid, the stakes could not be much higher. Despite those high stakes, the impression created in recent days has been of a government cheerleading for this deal on the basis of a short letter with inadequate assurances."
On Friday, AstraZeneca rejected a second bid from Pfizer, which was said to be in the region of £63 billion.
In 2002, the Labour government put in place a public interest test that would make it possible for government to block takeovers if it was felt that they would have a negative impact on the country.
This would be judged on the grounds of media plurality, national security or financial stability.
However, with the Pfizer takeover deal in mind, Miliband wants the government to expand the reasons for vetoing a takeover to include strategic importance and the impact it might have on Britain’s science and research sector.
Despite Pfizer’s chief executive, Ian Read, assuring David Cameron that job’s would remain in the UK and a “substantial” research centre would be developed at Cambridge University, Miliband believes that if AstraZeneca, which currently employs 6,700 workers in Britain, was sold to Pfizer it could have a major effect, not only on the number of research and development jobs available, but also the economic standing of Britain in the pharmaceutical industry.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, he said: "The prime minister, rather than being that cheerleader for this takeover with paper-thin assurances, should be actually championing British jobs and a British success story that is AstraZeneca – investing in research and development, a crucial part of our science base."
According to sources, the Prime Minister has maintained that the government would remain neutral when it came to the deal.
In reaction to Miliband’s comments today a No 10 spokesman said: "The government isn't cheerleading for Pfizer. It is fighting for British jobs and British science. By suggesting otherwise, Ed Miliband is putting politics before the national interest and undermining that position. We engaged early with both companies precisely to avoid previous governments' failures in these types of situation."