Nine times the Tories turned on business because of Brexit

The Conservatives love to claim they’re the party of business – but they keep picking fights with UK companies.

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The Conservative Party has always loved claiming it’s the only party businesses can trust to be in government. But the self-styled party of business has been struggling with that image lately. As ministers have begun picking fights with private companies, Brexit means the Tories are rapidly losing that reputation.

Here are the most significant times the party’s turned on business in the Brexit era:

1) “Corporate irresponsibility”

Even in her pitch for the party leadership in July 2016, Theresa May set the tone by cooling her party’s rhetoric about business, condemning “unscrupulous bosses” and “corporate irresponsibility”.

2) British business is “lazy and fat”

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox reportedly told a drinks reception of Tory activists in September 2016 that British business is too “lazy and fat” to export products overseas.

“This country is not the free trading nation that it once was. We have become too lazy, and too fat on our successes in previous generations,” he said, according to a Telegraph report, condemning “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”.

3) British businesses don’t “want to export”

Fox again – this time in a 2017 interview with The House magazine, when his comments that British business “doesn’t want to export” were roundly condemned. “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,” he said.

4) “Crony capitalists”

During a speech in June this year, Environment Secretary and Brexiteer Michael Gove ranted against corporate interests, attacking “crony capitalists who have rigged the system in their favour and against the rest of us”.

5) “Fuck business”

Later in June, when Boris Johnson was still foreign secretary, he reportedly responded “fuck business” when asked about businesses’ concerns over Brexit during a reception with diplomats. He didn’t deny using the expletive.

6) “Completely inappropriate threats” from Airbus

During an interview with Andrew Marr at the end of June, then health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned Airbus and other UK-based multinationals’ “completely inappropriate” “threats” – after Airbus warned the previous week that it would leave Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

7) Companies are “putting the UK at a disadvantage”

Fox again slammed businesses by telling Sky News that businesses urging the government to rule out a no-deal scenario were undermining Britain’s negotiating position. “People who are making these comments need to understand that they may be actually putting the UK at a disadvantage by making these cases,” he said

8) John Lewis shouldn’t “blame Brexit” for not doing “so well”

Last week, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab made a jibe on live radio against John Lewis, after the company blamed poor profits partly on uncertainty caused by Brexit. “All I’m just gently saying is that it is rather easy for a business to blame Brexit and the politicians rather than to take responsibility for their own situation.”

9) Jaguar Land Rover boss is “making it up”

In a radio interview on Monday, hard Brexiteer Tory MP Bernard Jenkin accused the boss of Jaguar Land Rover live on-air of “making it up” after he warned that a no-deal Brexit could grind its factories to a halt in Britain and lose “tens of thousands” of jobs in the sector. “I’m afraid I think he’s making it up,” said Jenkin. “We’ve had figures made up all the time by the scaremongers in this debate, and I’m afraid nobody believes them.”

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.