Liam Fox under pressure to apologise over 'too lazy and too fat' comments about business leaders

No 10 stands by the International Trade Secretary, saying he was 'expressing private views'

Liam Fox leaves Millbank studios yesterday
Liam Fox leaves Millbank studios yesterday

Trade Secretary Liam Fox is facing anger from business leaders after his secretly recorded claim that they are “too lazy and too fat” to succeed.

Dr Fox was under pressure to apologise for the remarks, which also included the allegation that bosses are more interested in playing golf than winning in tough export markets.

But No 10 continued to stand by the key pro-Brexit Cabinet minister, after its initial insistence that he was merely “expressing private views”.

A source said the entire Government was focused on ensuring post-Brexit Britain traded its way to prosperity “whatever form of words we use”.

Dr Fox found himself in the firing line after his explosive comments to the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward group, last Thursday, were reported by The Times.

At a drinks reception, the International Trade Secretary – a former GP – said: “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.

“What is the point of us reshaping global trade, what is the point of us going out and looking for new markets for the United Kingdom, if we don't have the exporters to fill those markets?”

Demanding a culture change, Dr Fox added: “People have got to stop thinking about exporting as an opportunity and start thinking about it as a duty – 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.”

One entrepreneur, Innocent Drinks co-founder Richard Reed condemned the comments as “absolutely disgusting” and accused Dr Fox of “trash-talking the country”.

Mr Reed said “How dare he? He is a representative of us, of this country and he turns around and slags us off, calling us fat and lazy.”

The chief executive of the Engineering Employers Federation, Terry Scuoler, said: “The comments from Liam Fox were extremely unwise and very unhelpful.

“What we're looking for in these uncertain times is support from government – not negativity – particularly through the forthcoming Autumn Statement.”

And Mike Cherry, the Federation of Small Businesses chairman, said: “Our latest data shows that UK small exporters grew in the last quarter. They are now more competitive, rising to the challenge and finding new markets.”

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow minister without portfolio, pinned the blame on Theresa May’s “shocking poor judgement in bringing Liam Fox back”.

He added: “He should apologise immediately for insulting Britain's businessmen and women ‎whose hard work in the national interest could teach him a thing or two.”

To No10’s embarrassment, it was the second time in a week that it had been forced to describe comments by a Cabinet minister helping to pursue Britain’s EU withdrawal as a private view.

Brexit Secretary David Davis was slapped down for suggesting Single Market membership is “very improbable” without border controls – leaving only Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gaffe-free so far.

A No 10 source said: “Whatever form of words we use, the point we all want to make is that Britain can trade its way to greater prosperity, with the well paid jobs and security that entails.

And a spokesman said: “Dr Fox is committed to supporting the full range of businesses in the UK so that they can best take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit presents.”

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