Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Not so fantastic, Dr Fox

Well, it is good to get your excuses in first.

Otherwise, what how else could explain what possessed Brexit ultra Liam Fox, that darling of the Thatcherites to alienate the business people he has spent so many years extolling?

Fox sparked anger and disbelief at the weekend by claiming that British businesses were too ‘lazy and fat’ to be the buccaneers of international trade that the secretary of state for, err, international trade wishes them to be. Adding insult to injury, he threw in the claim that UK PLC was more interested in playing golf than signing a trade deal.

Now, I am as keen as anyone to seek an early exit from the office on a Friday – but surely an appointment with the 19th hole is not the only explanation for our £4.5bn trade deficit?

Perhaps Fox thought his newly-created cabinet post too easy a gig, so he wanted to make it a real challenge, by alienating the very people who are going to make a success of Brexit (and his job).

You can almost admire his chutzpah. As one of the leading advocates of Brexit, he toured Britain with one of the biggest whoppers in British political parties painted on the side of a bus. He and his pals persuaded people that we could have control freedom of movement and still access the single market – all upside, no downside.

We can all remember how ashen-faced Michael Gove and Boris Johnson looked the morning after the referendum ballot – their breath taken away by the enormity of what they had done. It was as if they could barely process the enormity of the political and economic bombshell for which they were both responsible. No wonder they flunked their respective leadership challenges.

Now, one of their chief allies in Brexit is desperately trying to manage expectations about what can be achieved when it comes to international trade post-Brexit.

But Fox does not have the humility to acknowledge what, for many Remainers, was crystal clear – that creating new trading relationships would be tough and take time. That, for instance, when Barack Obama said we would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal, he was not doing it for laughs.

Instead he turns on our exporters in a bizarre game of expectation management – an epic failure of leadership at a time when many businesses are crying out for support and greater certainty.

And what a contrast with Labour in power.

Sadiq Khan fought doggedly to persuade people of the manifold benefits to London, and the country, of remaining in the European Union. But since the referendum he has mounted an equally hard-fought campaign to persuade the world that ‘London is open’ – for business, for tourism, for culture and education.

He is backing his city to remain a leading global centre for trade – and backing up the efforts of the capital’s businesses to make the best of Brexit. Keeping access to the single market is vital here. Talking down our traders, less so.

But a wider lesson for Labour has to be that, for the sake of jobs and growth, we cannot shirk engaging and supporting businesses, which provide so many jobs; especially those that rely on trade with Europe and beyond.

Given the uncertainty created by Brexit, if there was ever a time to be ‘pro-business, but no pro-business as usual’, this is it.

Fox has made clear that, when the chips are down, we cannot rely on the Tories to do the job properly.


Mike Katz is national vice-chair of the Jewish Labour movement and a former list candidate for the London Assembly. He tweets at @mikekatz



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Mike Katz

1 comment

  • “Fat and lazy” is mild stuff compared to the what Tory-lite Labourdoodles have called our leader over the last year. Accept you’ve lost, trim the bouffant, and get behind a real socialist leader for victory in 2020.

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