Ministers are putting pressure on US drug giant Pfizer to show that commitments to Britain will be "binding" in the case of a takeover of AstraZeneca, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.
David Cameron told the House of Commons yesterday that Pfizer's assurances - including retaining at least 20% of the combined companies' research and development workforce in the UK for at least five years and siting its European HQ in Britain - were "encouraging", but he said he was "not satisfied" with them and wanted the firm to do more.
AstraZeneca has so far resisted approaches from its rival, but executives have not given up hope of completing a £60 billion-plus deal - potentially the biggest foreign takeover of a British company yet.
Fears have been raised that resulting cost-cutting could cause the loss of thousands of highly-skilled jobs and undermine the UK's science base.
Labour is calling for the extension of the 2002 Enterprise Act to allow a deal to be blocked if an independent assessment found it was not in the public interest, and earlier this week Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable refused to rule out intervening.
Clegg told LBC 97.3 radio that the government's focus was on ensuring that "jobs are protected, research is protected, excellence in science is protected".
He said: "That's why we are being very exacting in our discussions with Pfizer, when they have approached members of the Government, and said 'You are talking the talk now about the assurances you are giving about the continuation of manufacturing and research and science facilities in the UK, but walk the walk. How do you make this stick?' That's what we are really focused on."
Clegg said the Government's policy remained that Britain should be open to overseas investment, and stressed that "at the end of the day, the Government has to remain neutral".
But he added: "That doesn't mean it is a free-for-all and it doesn't mean we don't have a major public interest to protect.
"Some of the protections we can secure are through formal legal powers, but quite a lot of it - particularly in this instance - is us saying 'Hang on, the Government is a major player now and in the future in how support is provided to the science and research communities in this country. This matters to us massively. We are a world leader in this'.
"That's why I don't think it is easy for a company like Pfizer to ignore what the Government says, and that's why we are saying very unambiguously 'You are making some encouraging noises about what you would do if this deal were to go ahead... You have got to persuade us that these are commitments which really are binding'."