Liam Fox: As a doctor, I'm entitled to call businesses fat and lazy
Liam Fox has defended his criticism of British businesses for not maximising their export opportunities, insisting that as a doctor he is used to telling people hard truths.
The International Trade Secretary was condemned for claiming earlier this month that some companies were “too lazy and too fat” to sell overseas.
He also suggested that British bosses were more interested in spending their Friday afternoons on the golf course rather than in their offices.
Downing Street distanced itself from the remarks, while Business Secretary Greg Clark said he had yet to meet a “lazy business person”.
But this morning Dr Fox - who was a GP before entering politics - refused to row back on his comments.
“What I said was as a country we have been too willing to rest upon the achievements of previous generations,” he said after a lengthy speech extolling the virtues of free trade.
“We were a country that was the world’s top global trading nation; we have fallen behind, we have fallen behind our European partners and we have fallen behind in that global race and where many of our businesses would have seen exporting as a natural part of the progress of what we did, many no longer do so.
"Now, is that the fault of the culture? Is that the fault of Government? Is it somewhere in between? That’s what we’ve need to discover and what we need to do as a country is see what are those impediments that we need to remove?...
“When I was a doctor my job was not to tell people what they wanted to hear, it was to tell them what they needed to hear so that we could put things right. If it applies to medicine, why do the same ethics not apply to politics? A question I’ve always wondered.”
In response to the “fat and lazy” comments, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said: “We will be looking at how we work up and down the country to identify with businesses where their opportunities are, to look at how trade missions overseas can work and ministerial engagement.”
Dr Fox’s Labour counterpart, Barry Gardiner, was scathing about the outburst, labelling it “as extraordinary as it was inexcusable”.
“This is the person who is supposed to be going around the world selling the virtues of British business,” he told The House magazine.
“At a stroke he has made himself look ludicrous in every ministers’ office that he walks into around the world because the first thing any minister that has agreed to meet with him to talk about doing trade with Britain, the first thing they’re going to ask him is ‘so tell me, are British businesses fat and lazy?’”
Elsewhere in his speech this morning, the Tory minister said the UK would agree a deal with the EU that would allow firms to do business with other member states without tariffs.
Pointing out that the EU currently runs a surplus with the UK, he questioned whether they would be willing to return to a system of trade barriers.
“Who does it harm more if we end up in a new tariff environment?” he asked.
“It’s in everybody’s interests that as we move forward we have at least as free a trading environment as we have today. Anything else may not harm the politicians and the institutions but it will harm the people of Europe and it’s the people of Europe who should be at the forefront of our thoughts.”
He also took a thinly-veiled swipe at David Cameron’s government for not putting more emphasis on trade.
“I’m delighted that under a new government and new prime minister trade is back at the heart of the government’s agenda,” he said.