By Sarah Neville, Public Policy Editor
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 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Mr Soriot’s friends say he requested to have his name withdrawn on his own account — not because of any pressure from the company’s board.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.”