Pascal Soriot takes name off list of Tory business supporters

By Sarah Neville, Public Policy Editor

The chief executive of AstraZeneca has removed his name from the list of business leaders backing Conservative party economic policies in an embarrassing setback for Tory efforts to harness industry support ahead of next month’s general election.
Pascal Soriot, incoming chief executive officer of AstraZeneca Plc, poses in this undated handout photo released to the media on Monday, Sept. 3, 2012. AstraZeneca Plc named Soriot, Roche Holding AG's head of pharmaceuticals, as chief executive officer to revive sales and product development as the U.K. company faces one of the industry's biggest patent expirations. Source: AstraZeneca Plc via Bloomberg EDITOR'S NOTE: NO SALES. EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Pascal Soriot was among 17 business figures reported on Thursday to have added their names to the pro-Tory letter, on top of the 103 signatories named when it was first published in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday. However, hours later, Britain’s number two pharmaceuticals group issued a statement distancing its boss from the letter. Mr Soriot said he supported policies to “reinforce a competitive tax environment and encourage investment in the UK”. But he added: “Neither I nor AstraZeneca endorse any political party and while I support such policies my name should not be used in the context of the letter.”

The about-turn came ahead of Thursday night’s televised debate between party leaders in Salford and provided some relief for Labour from Tory attempts to trumpet business leaders’ backing for its economic plan.
Paul Kelly, chief executive of Selfridges, Michael Grade, chairman of Pinewood Studios, and Michel de Carvalho, chairman of Citi Private Bank, were among others reported by the Telegraph to have added their names to the letter.
Mr Soriot’s name was perhaps the most surprising because AstraZeneca received vocal support from the Labour leadership during its successful campaign to resist a £69.4bn takeover offer from Pfizer of the US last year.
The drugmaker also counts Baroness Shriti Vadera, a former Labour business minister, among its directors and receives advice from Roland Rudd, the public relations executive known for his close ties to Labour.
Mr Soriot was telephoned by Lord Feldman, the Conservative co-chairman, on Wednesday and asked if he would add his name to the letter supporting the party’s low tax policies.

The Frenchman replied at lunchtime on Wednesday by email, saying: “I would be more than happy to sign this letter. Let me know how to proceed.”

However the AstraZeneca boss’s allies said he reflected on the decision overnight and was “mortified” that his comments had been drawn into a political controversy.

He asked for his name to be removed, but by that point it had already been published in the Telegraph. His friends admit he had been “a bit naïve” but had been travelling abroad and was not aware of the controversy around the original letter.

Mr Soriot’s friends say he requested to have his name withdrawn on his own account — not because of any pressure from the company’s board. Chuka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “This is an embarrassment for the Tories.

“It is right that business leaders . . . contribute to the debate, but it is only by government and business working in partnership that we will create sustainable growth and more high-skilled, better-paid jobs.

“As Mr Soriot has demonstrated today, most business leaders want to work with whichever party is in government.”

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