Few will weep as Pfizer departs our shores. The American giant sailed into Britain far too heavy-handedly, failing to pay adequate attention to those with an interest in AstraZeneca’s future – be that the science community, the company and its shareholders, or Westminster.
That Pfizer should have been so remiss, given the repeated backlashes against it in previous job-and research-cutting takeovers, was one of the most remarkable aspects of this tax-driven merger attempt. Despite all its talk of investment and speeding drugs to market, in Pfizer’s eyes this was always a transaction motivated largely by a desire to avoid US taxes, and take advantage of Britain’s rising status as an offshore haven.
That desire is not going to go away. Indeed, the appetite of American companies to do similar tax-motivated deals for British companies will only increase in the coming months as Washington moves to close off the loophole that allows them.
Other deals – such as a mooted US bid for InterContinental Hotels - are already coming, and there is little reason to think that Pfizer will not be back after the six-month cooling off period comes to an end.
So while the immediate storm may have passed, there must now be a serious debate, and quickly, about which of our industries we want to protect from foreign takeover in the public interest, and which we are happy to let go. We should also consider a halfway house, whereby certain industries are protected by an independent body to adjudicate on overseas takeovers.
Pfizer’s bid approach may have run out of time, but there are lessons from it to be heeded, and urgently.