British businesses have become too “lazy and fat” while the UK has been in the European Union (EU), with executives more interested in playing golf than exporting products overseas, the International Trade Secretary has said.
Liam Fox accused businesses of not being ready to take advantage of the trade deals he was negotiating after Brexit, and called on the Foreign Office to change from a “cartographer’s view of the world” to a mercantile one.
In unguarded comments to Conservative Party activists, which were recorded by The Times, Dr Fox suggested that EU membership had made British businesses complacent.
“This country is not the free- trading nation that it once was,” he said. “We have become too lazy, and too fat on our successes in previous generations.
“What is the point of us reshaping global trade, what is the point of us going out and looking for new markets for the United Kingdom, if we don’t have the exporters to fill those markets?”
Dr Fox, whose job it is to negotiate new trade deals for Britain once it has left the European Union, added: “We’ve got to change the culture in our country.
“People have got to stop thinking about exporting as an opportunity and start thinking about it as a duty — companies who could be contributing to our national prosperity but choose not to because it might be too difficult or too time-consuming or because they can’t play golf on a Friday afternoon.”
In the run up to the referendum, numerous big businesses strongly backed Britain staying in the EU, claiming Brexit would lead to economic catastrophe.
Dr Fox also said the government was planning to put greater emphasis on British companies investing abroad than letting foreign companies invest in Britain, saying that foreign companies ultimately draw money out of Britain.
“Up until the change of government, the policy was to get as much foreign direct investment into the United Kingdom as possible, but to largely ignore overseas direct investment elsewhere.
“And that’s a problem because it’s great the year we get the foreign investment and we get jobs created, but every year after that all their income flows that go to their parent companies or their parent countries are outward flows in our current account.”
Downing Street last night said that Dr Fox’s views were his own and not those of the government, while a spokesman for Dr Fox said he was “committed to supporting the full range of businesses in the UK so that they can take best advantage of the opportunities that Brexit represents”.