Cameron softens tone on Pfizer deal as boss flies in

Kate McCann
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PRIME MINISTER David Cameron has signalled a softening of the government’s position over the Astrazeneca Pfizer takeover bid, warning against putting undue pressure on the deal.

In an interview yesterday, Cameron said the government has made “very good progress” on guarantees that jobs would remain in the UK if the deal went ahead, adding that the country stands to benefit enormously from its economic openness.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Cameron said he would seek more reassurances from the drug giant, but suggested further engagement was the best way forward.

The change in tone from the Prime Minister, who last week said he would be open to discussions about a public interest test, comes as Pfizer boss Ian Read touches down on UK soil ahead of two committee hearings in parliament this week.

Read will be quizzed by MPs on the business and science committees about the deal, and the company is said to be focused on making a good impression on sceptical backbenchers to smooth the way for a second bid, possibly on Friday when the House of Commons is expected to be in recess.

In a further development yesterday, Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna penned an open letter to secretary of state Vince Cable, asking for a more stringent public interest test. “Previously, you have also said we must seek to take a much longer-term and strategic view of the UK economy and commissioned the Kay Review which in part looked at takeovers,” Umunna wrote, adding: “Clearly, we are now at a watershed moment to make good on those promises to act in a more strategic way for the UK economy.”

Cable is expected to update MPs on the government’s position tomorrow, but a Whitehall source suggested that communication between Cameron, Cable and the two drug giants is ongoing. A source close to the deal said last night that Pfizer understands its commitment to retain 20 per cent of jobs in the UK for five years after the deal is legally binding. The source added bosses are “heartened” by Cameron’s softening tone on the takeover.

9.30am: Tony Burke, Assistant General Secretary, Unite; Allan Black, National Officer, GMB

10.00am: Ian Read, chairman and chief executive, Pfizer; Frank D’Amelio, chief financial officer, Pfizer; Jonathan Emms, UK managing director, Pfizer

11.15am: Pascal Soriot, chief executive, AstraZeneca; Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of innovative medicines and early development, AstraZeneca; Ian Brimicombe, vice president of corporate finance, AstraZeneca

1.00pm: Vince Cable MP, secretary of state for business, innovation and skills