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AstraZeneca Chairman wants three-year Brexit transition period

Published on 03/10/17 at 07:18am

The Chairman of AstraZeneca, Leif Johansson, revealed in no uncertain terms that his company would like there to be a three-year Brexit transition period.

In comments made to Swedish daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, he made the company’s desire for clarity from the government perfectly clear by stating that business needed “at least three years” for the transition period and “and very early in that period, we need to know what to expect in years four, five and six”.

The pharma industry had, thus far, kept its head below ground and not risked making comments that could be potentially divisive. The latest comments show the increasing strain put on the industry, particularly for the larger pharma companies.

Tension between the industry and the government were already made clear when Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, refused to put his name on a letter expressing confidence in the government’s approach last month.

The letter asked FTSE 100 leaders to put their names against a letter that welcomed the government’s negotiation strategy on Brexit. The request from the government was met with apparent bemusement by many who received a copy, with Brexit discussions with the EU having progressed very little and a lack of clear path from the government.

There is a fear from some sides of industry that such a lack of movement in discussions could indicate that a hard Brexit is becoming more likely. Johansson is quoted as saying: “There is a logic among the political leadership that you just don’t back down until the last minute…Then, finally, after pulling an all-nighter, you get to a result.”

This is the type of brinksmanship that would leave the pharmaceutical industry, in one of the most heavily regulated sectors, incredibly unhappy, though Johansson did suggest that AZ was preparing for this eventuality.

The chairman’s comments have not come at a particularly good moment for the UK government, which does not need any further noises of discontent as it struggles with its own much-publicised, fraught party dynamic.

Ben Hargreaves

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