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Number 10: Government is ‘active in engagement’ over Pfizer bid

6 May 2014

What is the government’s stance on Pfizer’s takeover bid of AstraZeneca? Today the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked this – and his answer didn’t shed a great deal of light on the situation. He said the position was ‘active in engagement, with both companies in terms of the importance to the UK of R&D and the science base, with regard to the decision as to whether or not going ahead is the right thing to do for either company and their shareholders, is entirely a matter for the companies, their boards and their shareholders’.

But what if the takeover does turn out to damage jobs and the science base in this country? Would the government remain neutral on the deal in the way that the Prime Minister has suggested, and in the way that his spokesman suggests in the above quote? The spokesman responded:

‘Well, I would say that’s pretty much what I’ve just described in my opening answer in terms of as I say, in terms of assessing the potential link to jobs and the skills base to be very actively engaged in terms of what must be and is a decision for respective boards, entirely a matter for them and not something which the government is involved in.’

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He added that the government was ‘making no apology that we want to engage very actively with both companies in terms of as I say the importance of R&D, of skills, of expanding the skills base in the UK, we will keep doing that, but as I said, what is a commercial decision between the shareholders, we believe that is for the shareholder and no-one else and we will continue making that point very clearly.’

This is a funny sort of active engagement. It’s less a rugby player in a scrum and more a spectator shouting a lot from the sidelines while realising he has no influence over the game. The government doesn’t want to interfere in the deal itself, but it wants to be seen to be making sure that Britain gets the best deal. Another nuance is that it doesn’t want to scare away foreign companies that it has tried hard to attract through a competitive tax regime and a world-renowned research base in a part of the world where researchers are keen to live and put down roots. But it also doesn’t want to give the impression that Britain is somehow a valley of assets that vulture-like companies can come along and strip. Its position isn’t clear, really, at all, and that leads to the government looking both meddling and powerless at once.

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  • Bryan

    Just another example of how the EU rules us – little point in Pfizer trying to sweet talk the UK government, but you can bet they’ve quietly been lining up (bribing) allies in the eurocracy.
    But why is the UK so powerless, for only this week we learn that: “AFTER General Electric bid last week to buy Alstom, a French train-to-turbine industrial conglomerate, the deal was blocked not by shareholders but the French government.”
    If the Frenceh can do it, why can’t we……..!

  • Mynydd

    Does the commitments given by Pfizer in its letter to the Prime Minister the same as, a Mr Clegg pledge, and/or a Mr Cameron cast iron guarantee

  • Jambo25

    I’d be a bit more impressed with a ‘Save Astra Zeneca’ campaign if those who now are fighting it had done anything to oppose the wholesale move of the company to Cambridge from the Manchester area. I believe several thousand Northerners (Including a close friend’s daughter.) will be hitting the bricks over this. What’s good for the Manchester area is definitely not good for somewhere further south, like Cambridge.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Of course what Izzy doesn’t mention is that this is the same Pfizer who in 2010 closed its factory and research department in Sandwich Kent when previously it had been the largest private sector employer in Thanet. Sandwich is in the South Thanet constituency constituency which amongst the Tory seats most vulnerable and under threat from UKIP. when Hardman ‘heroine’ and South Thanet MP, Laura Sandys has already bottled it, raised the white flag and announced she is standing down in 2015

    Clearly its a case of once bitten twice shy………

    As far as I am concerned the government should make it as difficult for Pfizer to takeover AZ as possible. They clearly are partisan and chauvinistic when making business decisions (everything from Sandwich was shipped back to their parent USA) so we should treat them equally chauvinistically rather than be slave to some absurd anachronistic notion of the free market (which only exists for other countries when it work in their interests). Its about time the Tories started putted the best interests of the nation first novel as that may be before their deranged and delusional vision of the world at large…..

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