On Saturday, Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, dreading a potentially abrupt Brexit, said that lack of progress in negotiations made it difficult for him to sign a public letter of support for the strategy of the British government.
Prime Minister Theresa May has urged companies listed in the blue-chip FTSE 100 index to place their name on a public letter welcoming the efforts of the government to make Brexit successful.
“The reason I didn’t sign is that I felt there are so many areas that are still uncertain. How can we support something that we don’t really understand fully?” stated Soriot, on the sidelines of a cancer conference in Madrid.
Executives at various companies have privately said that the request went down poorly with many large corporations, but they have been hesitant to comment publicly.
Soriot stated that his unwillingness to sign did not indicate that the drugmaker did not agree with the decision of Britain to leave the European Union, continuing that it could have various positive aspects if it went hand-in-hand with improved support for the UK life sciences sector.
But the uncertainty regarding the future terms of trade just 18 months before March 2019 when Brexit takes place suggests that exports of medicines could be hampered, said Soriot.
“What is starting to worry me, I must say, is the potential for the one thing I didn’t think would happen which is a hard Brexit,” stated the chief executive.
“If there is no extension we will be left in limbo because the UK will come out of Europe and we will have no trade agreements.”
The second-biggest pharmaceuticals company in Britain makes a lot of products in the north of England, including the Zoladex, a cancer drug, of which sales are increasing rapidly in China and other countries around the globe.
“We need to know that is not going to be disrupted because right now we are exporting under a trade agreement between the EU and China,” said Soriot.
Several companies worry that Britain’s move to leave the world’s largest trading bloc will increase bureaucracy, drive up costs, and eat into profitability.
The public letter, which the advisers wanted to be signed by Soriot and other business leaders, states that the signatories are positive that “global Britain has the potential to become one of the most productive economies of the 21st century”.