Sir James Dyson is at again. The godfather of gadgets, ranging from vacuum cleaners to hand driers to fancy looking fans that cost a king’s ransom, has stomped into the debate over whether Britain should stay in the European single market when it finally quits the EU.
It probably won’t come as any great surprise to you to learn that he thinks not, while touting many of the fallacious arguments that are currently in vogue among Brexiteers.
Freeing us from the alleged dead weight of EU bureaucracy, we are told, will “liberate” our economy. We will be able to make our own rules while lighting a bonfire of red tape.
It’s amazing that someone as outwardly clever as Sir James buys into this sort of claptrap. Does he really believe that handing control back to Whitehall and Westminster will do that? That the people who copper plate EU rules and make them far more irksome than they ought to be, will somehow consent to a free for all once we’re out?
If he does, then he’s clearly not spending enough time outside of the workshop he likes to potter around in at his Wiltshire base.
But, of course, Sir James has history with the EU. Once a proponent of the UK joining the euro, he was left spitting tacks last year when his company lost a nasty court case over energy labelling on vacuum cleaners, the product that made the Dyson name into what it is today.
Dyson argued that these are misleading because they are handed out after testing in pristine labs rather than in conditions more commonly found in the average home.
He claimed this handed a big advantage to his main rivals. The Dyson doesn’t lose suction as it fills with household dirt by contrast to bag-using vacuum cleaners that do, and thus use more energy in the home than they do in a testing centre.
The company made some good points and the European Court of Justice accepted that the testing regime was indeed flawed. However, it threw out the case because it said Dyson didn’t have a reliable and accurate replacement. And Dyson was ordered to pay costs, adding financial insult to a testing injury.
This made Sir James quote quite cross. Ditto the company that bears his name. “Livid” was one word used to describe the corporate view of the ruling, which was compared to the wonky emissions tests that Volkswagen got around with its nefarious defeat device.
At the time Sir James was still saying that he wanted to keep European free trade and the free movement of people (not least because he struggles to find sufficient engineers to staff his operations). But you can’t have the free trade without accepting the regulation. So now it's cheerio single market.
This isn’t as big of a deal to Dyson as it is to any number of British firms, not to mention all those foreign firms that set up here with the aim of using the UK as a base from which to trade with Europe.
Dyson’s biggest market is the US, followed by Japan, followed by the UK. Europe is still important, but Dyson will manage just fine even if the UK has to accept the 10 per cent tariffs that could be imposed if it exits without a trade deal.
Sir James will also manage just fine. He’s a gazillionaire businessman who lives in a country pile. It won’t matter to him if some of those foreign firms pull out as a result of losing access to the single market. It won’t matter to him if some of the British firms that trade predominantly with Europe start struggling as a result of the imposition of those tariffs. It will surely matter to the tens of thousands of Britons those businesses employ, Britons who lack his enormous financial cushion.
The trouble is people don’t see that when he trots along to the BBC for an interview. It’s just Sir James, the rock star businessman. I just dried my hands with his air blades when I went to the loo! He has a cachet, that sinister insurance boss Arron Banks, who co founded the Leave EU campaign and helps to fund Ukip, lacks.
When Sir James appears on people’s TV screens they’re much more inclined to listen than they are to the snarling Mr Banks. They, and the people who interview Sir James, need to remember that there are stories behind his conversion to Eu-phobia.
For sure, companies like Dyson ought to be encouraged. Even if Sir James did shift his manufacturing over to the Far East, he still employs a lot of clever people in product design and development at his Malmesbury campus.
He’s a rare breed, a genuine British innovator who throws off new gadgets at a dizzying rate.
But he’s yet another example of a Brexiteer who is sheltered from its malign consequences. If only the rest of us were so lucky.
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