Astrazeneca boss says lack of Brexit progress made signing Downing St letter impossible

Jasper Jolly
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AstraZeneca And Pfizer Chief Executive's Give Evidence To Select Committee
Pascal Soriot is chief executive at Astrazeneca (Source: Getty)

The lack of progress in Brexit negotiations prevented the boss of Astrazeneca from signing a letter of support for the Prime Minister this week, he revealed today.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of the FTSE 100 pharma giant, said uncertainty about the post-Brexit trade relationship was the key reason for rejecting the letter, Reuters reported.

Speaking at a cancer conference in Madrid, he said: “The reason I didn’t sign is that I felt there are so many areas that are still uncertain. How can we support something that we don’t really understand fully?”

Downing Street this week asked the bosses of FTSE 100 companies to sign the letter backing Prime Minister Theresa May's efforts, but there has so far been little sign of success in gaining their backing.

Read more: Downing Street asks FTSE 100 firms to sign letter backing Brexit strategy

The letter will reportedly praise the government's plans for a transitional period for business to adjust to a new trading relationship after leaving the EU. However, there has so far been little concrete progress in the negotiations between the UK and the EU, with both sides still arguing over the sequence of talks.

The likelihood of a so-called hard Brexit, in which the UK fails to agree a transitional period with the EU, has increased, Soriot told Reuters.

“What is starting to worry me, I must say, is the potential for the one thing I didn’t think would happen which is a hard Brexit,” he said.

“If there is no extension we will be left in limbo because the UK will come out of Europe and we will have no trade agreements.”

Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, last week said a debate on whether to allow Brexit negotiators to begin talking about the second stage of the process would be postponed until December.

The EU negotiators, led by Michel Barnier, have remained adamant that there must be "sufficient progress" on so-called withdrawal issues before any discussions begin addressing the future trading relationship.

Among the withdrawal issues is the divorce bill – the financial settlement the UK will pay the EU on leaving. The bill is a sticking point because EU creditor nations will be forced to make up any shortfall in the budget themselves, while many MPs on the right wing of the Conservative party are determined the UK will not pay anything.

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