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Cameron warns against closing door to Pfizer’s AstraZeneca bid

By Andrew Ward and Helen Warrell in London and Richard Milne in OsloDavid Cameron has warned that Britain must not “pull up the drawbridge” against foreign investors as Downing Street pushed back against pressure from the opposition Labour party to intervene in Pfizer’s proposed £63bn offer for AstraZeneca.

The prime minister said the UK benefited “massively” from its economic openness and insisted the government was making “very good progress” in seeking job assurances from Pfizer even without seeking new powers to formally intervene.

His comments on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show came as Ian Read, chairman and CEO of the US drugmaker, prepared to fly to London on Monday to be quizzed by lawmakers about his plans for what would be the biggest foreign takeover in UK history.

Mr Cameron last week left open the possibility of subjecting any deal to a “public interest test” after criticism from the opposition Labour party that he was not doing enough to safeguard Britain’s science base. But his remarks yesterday made clear his desire to avoid doing anything to undermine the UK’s reputation as a welcoming place for foreign investors.

Downing Street has struggled to find a consistent stance towards Pfizer as ministers have vacillated between welcoming the mooted deal as a sign of the attractiveness of UK life sciences and tougher rhetoric on the need to protect jobs.

Mr Read will attend separate hearings of the parliamentary committees on business and science tomorrow and on Wednesday. According to people close to Pfizer, he will say that his promise made earlier this month to maintain 20 per cent of the two companies’ combined research workforce in Britain for at least five years after any deal is legally binding under UK takeover rules.

AstraZeneca has so far refused to enter talks, arguing that the £50-per-share proposal from its US rival significantly undervalues the company.

AstraZeneca’s future is also raising concern in Sweden, where it has a big presence. The heads of the Karolinska Institutet, a Stockholm university that accounts for almost half of the medical research in Sweden, and chairman of the body behind the Nobel Prizes, told the Financial Times they were worried by Pfizer’s approach. (FT)

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