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UK May Use Public Interest Against Pfizer’s AstraZeneca Bid

07.05.2014 -

The UK could use its public interest powers to intervene in U.S. drugmaker Pfizer's potential takeover of British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, Business Secretary Vince Cable said.  

Prime Minister David Cameron is facing growing pressure from lawmakers to secure undertakings from the New York-based pharmaceutical company if it pulls off Britain's biggest takeover by a foreign buyer.

"The government must and will approach it from a position of even-handed neutrality and recognise that this is ultimately a matter for the shareholders of both companies," Cable told parliament.

"One of our options as the government would be to consider using our public interest test powers. This would be a serious step and not one that would be taken lightly but I'm open-minded about it whilst stressing that we are operating within serious European legal constraints," he added.

The public interest test is enshrined in British merger law and gives ministers the power to intervene in deals, but only for a limited number of reasons, mainly national security, media company mergers and banks.

Cable said the current structure did not give the government scope to address concerns about jobs and research and development investment raised by the potential Pfizer takeover, but said he might review the terms under which the public interest test could be applied, to protect Britain's scientific research base.

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