British MPs seek ‘cast iron’ pledge on AstraZeneca jobs

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By Andrew Ward, Elizabeth Rigby and Sam Fleming

Influential MPs will today demand that Pfizer offer “cast iron” guarantees on British and investment for up to 10 years if it buys AstraZeneca when they grill company’s boss over its £63bn takeover approach.

Ian Read, chairman and chief executive Pfizer, has been summoned to London for two days parliamentary hearings, where he is expected to argue that company will “keep our word” on and that proposal will create “a UK-based scientific powerhouse”.

But Adrian Bailey, who chairs business committee that will quiz Mr Read today, said nothing less “cast iron” guarantees would secure MPs’ backing for what would be the biggest foreign takeover in UK history.

The Westminster hearings promise to amplify intense political debate over the proposed as David Cameron comes under pressure the party to subject it to a public interest test.

Pfizer yesterday said promises in a letter to the prime minister earlier this month, including a pledge to keep 20 per cent the merged company’s research workforce in the UK, were already legally binding.

But MPs argued that the were limited to five years and included a get-out for Pfizer if “circumstances significantly change”.

“We havt/Cae been bitten once before on Krafdbury,” said Mr Bailey in a reference to US group Kraft, which abandoned job it made before it bought Cadbury in 2010. “Are the caveats . . . as legally binding as the commitments? If they are, they nullify each other.”

Andrew Miller, chair the committee that will question Mr Read tomorrow, said Pfizer would have to offer a 10-year on investment and and remove any qualifications to his .

Mr Cameron has asked to sure Pfizer’s existing assurances are legally binding or to seek new guarantees.

Pfizer has said it would be hard to further promises without first talking to AstraZeneca, which has so far refused to enter negotiations.

If Pfizer were to renege on the , it could fall foul of tougher but untested UK Take-over Panel rules introduced after the Kraft-Cadbury furore. If the Panel decided a pledge had been breached it could censure Pfizer, bring a court challenge or “cold-shoulder” the group.

The latter is the ultimate sanction and would involve the Panel telling regulated firms in the City – investment banks, accountants, law firms – to act for Pfizer on future deals.

But senior lawyers stressed that the strength of the revised rules had yet to be tested in a big and that Pfizer had left itself “wriggle room” in its undertakings. (FT)