"I think it would be extraordinary not to engage with AstraZeneca or
Pfizer," George Osborne told BBC radio on Saturday.
He stressed Britain was an open economy that had benefited
"enormously" from past investment by foreign companies, such as Tata
Motors and Nissan in the car industry, and AstraZeneca itself had
grown by taking over foreign firms.
Although the country's second-biggest drugmaker AstraZeneca has
rejected a $106 billion approach from Pfizer in what would be the
largest foreign takeover of a British company, the U.S. group is
expected to continue its pursuit.
Osborne said there was there was "a lot of speculation about another
Pfizer is currently weighing its next move, which could be a higher
offer next week.
"We are an open economy, we benefit from that. But our national
economic interest when it comes to a very big takeover like this is
who's going to be providing the science and the jobs and the
manufacturing," Osborne said.
Pfizer's past record of cutting jobs after swallowing smaller rivals
such as Wyeth, Warner-Lambert and Pharmacia has stirred up a
political storm and fuelled concerns among scientists about the
impact of any deal on British science.
Pfizer has already given a five-year commitment to complete
AstraZeneca's new research center in Cambridge, retain a factory in
the northwestern English town of Macclesfield and put a fifth of its
research staff in Britain if the deal goes ahead.
But the U.S. firm has also said it could adjust its promises if
circumstances change "significantly", prompting demands for more
Osborne's comments follow a call by Deputy Minister Nick Clegg on
Friday for binding commitments from Pfizer.
"Pfizer have given assurances about the jobs they'd create in
Britain and the science they'd do in Britain. We have to make sure
those are real promises that we can hold them to," Osborne said.
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"That's precisely what I'm doing and the Cabinet Secretary (Jeremy
Heywood) is doing in engaging with both these companies ... I'm
prepared, on the specifics, to get in the room and have a hard
While most scientists, trade unions and the opposition Labour Party
have lined up against the Pfizer bid, business leaders are worried
that any political moves to stop it going ahead could damage British
"If the British government intervenes, it will send the worst
possible signal to global business and repudiate a three-decade
commitment to a free and open economy," Simon Walker, director
general of the Institute of Directors, wrote in an opinion piece in
the Times newspaper on Saturday.
"It would invite retaliation from other countries where British
businesses have taken over major companies."
The British government has not ruled out the idea of subjecting the
Pfizer takeover plan to a formal "public interest test", although
competition lawyers believe the European Commission would probably
block any such attempted intervention.
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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