Ukraine and Russia
Asked about UK relations with Russia, the PMS said the government wanted constructive relations with Russia, but the actions Russia had taken in Ukraine clearly made that difficult. A meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels was discussing an extension of targeted sanctions. It was important to go further with these measures but the government’s preferred approach remained a solution through de-escalation.
Asked about the potential takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer, the PMS said it was a commercial decision. Britain had an open trade-based economy and was open to investment from overseas. The government wanted to attract investment to the UK and had introduced the patent box for the pharmaceutical sector, measures to boost worker skills and reform of the corporate tax regime.
Asked about government ministers’ support for HS2 , the PMS said HS2 was government policy and the usual whipping arrangements for votes would be in place.
Asked about criticism for the project, the PMS said there was very strong support from leaders of cities including Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds because they rightly believed it was an important investment for the whole of the UK and in helping to rebalance the economy. When increasing rail capacity, the government strongly believed the country needed the most modern railway system possible.