Labour's Ed Miliband calls for inquiry into Pfizer bid for AstraZeneca

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 6:33am

Britain's opposition Labour party called yesterday for an inquiry into a potential takeover of British firm AstraZeneca by US drug maker Pfizer, accusing the government of "cheerleading" for a deal.

AstraZeneca on Friday rejected a £63 billion (HK$823.67 billion) bid from Pfizer, which is expected to pursue its efforts to acquire Britain's second-largest pharmaceutical company.

"We need a more substantive assessment of whether this takeover is in the national economic interest before the UK government allows itself to be seen to be supporting it," Labour leader Ed Miliband said in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron.

While the government has talked with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer, it has said it has no intention of intervening in the deal and considers it a matter for the two companies' boards and shareholders.

But a year away from a national election, which polls show Labour would win if the vote were held now, Miliband's comments emphasise the high political and financial stakes.

Party leaders want to be seen protecting Britain's interests while avoiding nationalistic rhetoric that may spook other future overseas investment.

Ministers from the current two-party coalition have been pressing Pfizer over jobs and continued investment in research and development facilities in Britain. On Friday, Cameron's office said he was considering assurances from Pfizer chief executive Ian Read.

"We are going to have tests which ensure that this get-together becomes a great Anglo-American project, or it doesn't happen," Conservative spokesman Grant Shapps told Sky TV.

Miliband said the government's approach so far amounted to cheerleading for Pfizer's bid.The centre-right Conservative party has cast the potential takeover as a success for finance minister George Osborne in attracting foreign companies to Britain by creating a favourable tax and regulatory environment.

For centre-left Labour however, the call for government intervention to defend national interests is the latest move to take on big businesses in the name of protecting voters.