Pfizer could ditch AstraZeneca takeover bid without UK Government's support

Deputy Political Editor

The American drugs giant Pfizer has signalled that it will abandon its proposed £63 billion bid for AstraZeneca if it fails to secure the British Government’s active support for the move, it has emerged.

The warning came as David Cameron tempered his previous strong support for what would be the biggest takeover in British corporate history.

Amid Coalition tensions on the issue, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has promised to adopt a “studiously neutral” approach to the potential acquisition.

He has also refused to rule out altering the public interest test to enable ministers to block takeovers that threaten the country’s scientific base.

The US conglomerate would be very unlikely to proceed with its bid in the absence of the Government’s blessing, the Bloomberg financial news agency reported, citing a source close to the deal.

Pfizer is said to have acknowledged that Britain could make the business environment much more difficult for the company, particularly in an industry as heavily regulated as pharmaceuticals.

Read more: Pfizer tries to allay fears over £63bn Astra bid
Drugs may be a long-term business, but size matters
Sketch: Playing politics over Big Pharma
Comment: Backer has been wrong before on drugs firm deals
Comment: Shareholders to change their tune when money rolls in

Mr Cameron has been accused by Labour of “cheerleading” in his initial response to the planned takeover amid claims that Pfizer could cut jobs and erode the quality of scientific research in British laboratories.

Last week the Prime Minister said the Government had received “robust” assurances from Pfizer, while Tory ministers reacted enthusiastically to the possible merger.

But Mr Cameron told MPs yesterday that he wanted further commitments on jobs and investment from the American company in continuing talks over the bid.

He described criticism of his handling of the proposed deal as “extraordinary”, but added: “Let me be absolutely clear, I’m not satisfied, I want more. But the way to get more is to engage, not to stand up and play party politics.”

Labour is calling for amendment to the Enterprise Act to give the Government the ability to veto acquisitions of UK companies conducting scientific research. It has said it is prepared to force a Commons vote on the change, which it says can be achieved through secondary legislation.

In heated exchanges, Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said: “If you do not take action now, and the bid goes through without a proper assessment, everyone will know you were cheerleading for this bid, not championing British science and British industry.”

Mr Cameron sidestepped the call for altering the Act and retorted: “I think it is deeply sad the leader of the Opposition makes accusations about cheerleading when what the Government was doing was getting stuck in to help British science, British investment and British jobs.”

Tory sources have claimed Mr Miliband faces questions over his impartiality after it emerged that Baroness Vadera, a Labour donor and a party donor, sits on AstraZeneca’s board of directors, which has turned down three Pfizer bids.

It has also been disclosed that Mark Textor, an Australian strategist who has worked for the Conservatives, has also advised Pfizer. His business partner, Lynton Crosby, is Mr Cameron’s election campaigns director.

Bosses from Pfizer and AstraZeneca will be cross-examined on the impact of a potential deal by two Commons select committees on successive days next week.

Ian Read, the Pfizer chairman and chief executive, and Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of AstraZeneca, have been summoned by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on Tuesday and the Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday.

The latter will also question David Willetts, the science minister, about the Government's position.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific