British Prime Minister David Cameron has demanded that US drugmaker Pfizer give stronger guarantees it will keep jobs and investment in Britain in order to secure his government's blessing for a takeover of AstraZeneca.
By proposing the biggest ever foreign takeover of a British firm, New York-based Pfizer has sparked fierce debate on whether the government should let outsiders buy a pharmaceuticals group seen as a national champion in a strategically vital industry.
The government initially welcomed the bid as a vote of confidence in a tax system it has designed to attract investors. But after intense pressure in parliament, Mr Cameron said today that Britain had to be hard headed and indicated he even supported possible intervention to hold up the purchase.
"The commitments that have been made so far are encouraging," Mr Cameron said when asked about the $106 billion takeover offer during his weekly question session in parliament.
"But let me absolutely clear, I'm not satisfied. I want more. But the way to get more is to engage," he added.
"We want the investment, the jobs and the research that comes with that competitive tax system."
Though the British government has only limited legal power to block any merger, Pfizer Chief Executive Ian Read has already given a five-year commitment to complete AstraZeneca's new research centre in Cambridge, retain a factory in Macclesfield and put a fifth of its research staff in Britain if the deal goes ahead.
A spokesman for Pfizer declined to address Mr Cameron's comments directly, saying the company would be pleased to work with British parliamentary committees which have called Pfizer and AstraZeneca bosses to explain the impact of any takeover.
Media reports that two advisers to Mr Cameron had previously been paid by Pfizer were dismissed by the Prime Minister's spokesman, who said there was "nothing in" them.