Here's Liam Fox, on a golf course where - one presumes - he has met the businesspeople he has insulted with claims that they would rather be playing there than in an office. Now he has further insulted them by urging them to leave the UK altogether. Does he just want the course to himself?

Here’s Liam Fox, on a golf course where – one presumes – he has met the businesspeople he has insulted with claims that they would rather be playing there than working for the benefit of the UK economy. Now he has further insulted them by urging them to leave the UK altogether. Does he just want the course to himself?

After reading about Liam Fox’s latest disaster, I had to go online and check that I wasn’t mistaken about his job description; I’m pretty sure he is.

He is International Trade Secretary, and President of the Board of Trade. That means – broadly speaking – that he is responsible for encouraging businesses to base themselves in the UK and export their goods abroad.

This improves our employment figures, boosts our economy, and helps our balance of trade.

Instead, he’s telling businesses based here to clear off to foreign climes! What gives?

Coming on top of his previous gaffe – when he told British businesspeople they were all fat and lazy and more interested in having a game of golf on a Friday afternoon than improving the economy (an accusation more accurately levelled at Tory MPs like himself), it would be easy to jump to one of two conclusions:

Either he has had a nervous breakdown or he is deliberately trying to sabotage British business prospects.

I don’t think Theresa May can afford to wait for him to demonstrate (if he can) that this is actually part of a fiendishly clever and brilliant strategy.

If she doesn’t sack him now, he’ll drag her down with him.

If Liam Fox set out to alienate and upset business leaders, he probably could not be doing a better job of it.

First he characterised them and their outfits as fat and lazy. Now I’ve learned that he shocked a group of them, brought together by the CBI, when he said they should place more of their capital outside Britain – which seemed a dangerous and explosive thing to say when there are widespread concerns that Brexit will lead to a costly investment drought in the UK.

“Right now we need as much investment here as we can possibly get, to prevent a rise in unemployment – which is what many of us believe will be the painful reality of leaving the EU”, said the head of a huge UK company. “Few of us could really believe that he was telling us to invest more in other parts of the world. There was a real sense in the room of ‘this is bonkers’”.

A senior City figure said: “We assumed he would be telling us to invest here. It was literally amazing that he said we should do precisely the opposite”.

Another said the atmosphere in the room was “icy” – and said Mr Fox left without the usual applause.

Most economists would probably agree with Mr Fox that over the long term it would be helpful to the UK if British companies increased their stock of productive capital abroad. But to do that on a large scale now could be seen as potentially triggering a balance-of-payments and sterling crisis, because it could be seen as a vote of little confidence in the prospects for the UK of our indigenous businesses.

Source: (21) Robert Peston

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