AstraZeneca and Glaxo sign letter warning of European exit

The UK’s two global pharma companies AstraZeneca (AZ) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have joined hundreds of other leading firms in warning against an exit from the European Union.

A total of 197 companies and business leaders have written a letter to The Times newspaper just days after Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that an ‘in-out’ referendum on EU membership will be held on 23 June.

The group warns that leaving the EU would threaten jobs and put the UK economy at risk.

Yesterday saw the debate heat up within the House of Commons, with the Prime Minister urging the British public to vote to stay in, saying the concessions on ever-closer union and immigration he had negotiated last week with the EU were substantial.

But Mayor of London and MP Boris Johnson, widely considered to be a candidate to succeed Mr Cameron, has declared himself in favour of ‘Brexit’.

While polling suggests the general public is fairly evenly split on whether to vote ‘remain’ or ‘leave’, big businesses are overwhelmingly in favour of staying in Europe.

Chairmen or chief executives of 36 FTSE 100 companies signed the letter, organised by Stronger in Europe and Downing Street, including Burberry, BAE Systems, EasyJet and Ford.

The FTSE bosses were among a total of 198 signatories from the business world, including the chief executives of Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

However, nearly two-thirds of the UK’s largest publicly-listed businesses have not signed the letter, with Tesco, Sainsbury, RBS and Barclays among the notable absences.

Adding their signatures were AZ’s chief Pascal Soriot and GSK’s leader Sir Andrew Witty, who have both already spoken out in favour of EU membership.

“Our view is that the UK would be better off in the EU than outside,” said Soriot earlier this month.

“[That’s] from the simple viewpoint that this is the general direction of history, and for countries to work together in collaborative way.”

US-based pharma leaders have also expressed their concerns about the effects of a UK exit. Among the many questions it would raise is whether or not the UK would continue to follow the EMA lead regarding drug approvals. However there is are already non-EU countries such as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (members of the European Economic Area or EEA) which operate within the EMA rulings.

The referendum question is particularly divisive for the ruling Conservative party, with around half of MPs for, and half against, Brexit. Most cabinet ministers have backed the ‘remain’ campaign, but seven are to campaign for an exit, including Boris Johnson and justice secretary Michael Gove.

George Freeman, Minister for Life Sciences, and a former biotech venture capitalist, has declared that he will campaign for the UK to remain.

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