Miliband calls for public interest test in big takeovers

Labour leader Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband
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A stronger “public interest test” should be introduced for takeovers of strategically important businesses, Ed Miliband said as he demanded a full assessment of whether Pfizer’s potential takeover of AstraZeneca would be good for Britain.

The Labour leader has written to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for the publication of any analysis the Government has made of the proposal.

AstraZeneca spurned a new £63bn takeover offer from US rival Pfizer last week, saying it “substantially” undervalued the business and the pharmaceutical giant is reported to be considering its next move.

Mr Cameron said the Government had received “robust” assurances from Pfizer about protection for British jobs and research under the proposed deal and stressed it was a decision for shareholders.

But Mr Miliband said the Prime Minister was acting as a “cheerleader” for the deal and called for a thorough assessment of its potential impact.

He told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think David Cameron is in totally the wrong place on this issue.

“He has become a cheerleader for Pfizer’s takeover when instead he should be championing the long-term agenda for high-quality jobs in this country which AstraZeneca provides.”

A Number 10 source insisted that the Government “is not cheerleading for Pfizer, it is fighting for British jobs and British science”.

Mr Miliband said the Prime Minister should get an independent assessment of the impact the proposal would have on the “long-term science and industrial base of this country”.

“If I was prime minster I would be bringing in a new public interest test... widening the scope of the current public interest test, which says that when we have the largest takeover in British history, with all the implications it has for our science base, there’s got to be an independent assessment of the implications of this for our national interest,” he said.

“No other country in the world would be waving this bid through, nodding it through, on the basis of pretty weak assurances from Pfizer, who have a pretty dubious record when it comes to their record in this country and other takeovers.”

In his letter to Mr Cameron the Labour leader said: “I am strongly of the view that, when it comes to such a strategically important part of UK PLC, 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.”

Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said: “What is most important is Britain gets to benefit from whatever the deal is - if that can mean more R&D here, more jobs in this country and a great Anglo-American tie up, that’s good.”