Liam Fox has been slapped down by Downing Street after he claimed UK businesses weren’t doing enough to boost the economy.
The International Trade Secretary claimed the reluctance of some companies to export was holding back the efforts to get the economy firing on all cylinders.
He added there would be no point in signing free trade deals with countries after Brexit unless businesses “do an awful lot better” at exporting.
One anti-Brexit business owner claimed Fox’s comments “do not reflect reality”, while a Department for International Trade spokeswoman said: “Dr Fox’s comments have been deliberately misinterpreted.”
After being asked about the remarks, a Downing Street spokesperson talked up the UK’s trading ability, saying: “The UK has a good record for exports, we’re running successful campaigns to sell more overseas and we’re committed to helping British firms to take the opportunities that are available both now and after Brexit.”
They added: “I think we have a good record here, exports rose by 13.6% to £602 billion in the latest year-on-year figures so we want to build on that and continue to do more to help exporters.”
It is not the first time Fox has launched a broadside at UK companies, and last year he branded them “too lazy and too fat” to compete in the international market place.
He also accused company directors of preferring to play golf on a Friday afternoon instead of “contributing to our national prosperity”.
Fox made his latest comments in an interview with The House magazine, published today.
He said: “From Britain’s point of view, our main advantage doesn’t lie in getting more trade deals, it lies in getting more trade.
“So, we need to do an awful lot better with the markets that we already have access to globally, our trading performance still needs to improve, notwithstanding a more than 13% increase in trade in the last year.
“We’re still way behind where our economy needs to be. So, we need to think about how we can make our economy export ready, and more investment ready as well, and how we get more of our companies to think about exporting overseas.
“I can agree as many trade agreements as I like, but if British business doesn’t want to export, then that doesn’t do us any good.”
A spokesperson for the Confederation of British Industry agreed with Fox that getting more companies to export would boost economic growth.
The spokesperson added: “The CBI will continue to work with Government to ensure companies have the support they need, particularly in trying to access the benefits of existing trade agreements available through the EU, such as recently ratified CETA.
“Priority one, however, is resolving our future trading relationship with the EU, our largest trading partner.”
Ebookers founder Dinesh Dhamija, a supporter of the anti-Brexit Open Britain campaign, said: “Liam Fox’s foolish comments do not reflect reality.
“British businesspeople I know are desperate to export and open up new markets for their products and services. And they value the fact that two thirds of British exports currently go either to the EU or to countries with which the EU has a trade deal.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake accused Fox of blaming British businesses for his “own failings”.
He added: “So far Liam Fox has racked up thousands of air miles without securing a single trade deal.
“UK businesses shouldn’t be held responsible for the fact that he can’t deliver on his Brexit fantasy.”