Monday 26 December 2016 11:51 am

Brexit confusion gives foreign firms “God-given opportunity” to steal UK business says Trump commerce secretary

Chief City reporter covering banking, finance, economics and the City

Chief City reporter covering banking, finance, economics and the City

Brexit offers a “God-given opportunity” for foreign businesses to take market share from the UK, according to comments attributed to US President-elect Donald Trump’s new trade chief.

Veteran distressed debt billionaire Wilbur Ross made the comments to finance executives in Cyprus in the period after the referendum – before his appointment by Trump as US commerce secretary – according to reports by the Times.

Ross also urged Cyprus to try to tempt UK firms undergoing “inevitable relocations” as British businesses readjust to new trading conditions if the UK no longer has Single Market membership.

Read more: Is Lloyd’s of London set for sunnier climes?

“I recommend that Cyprus should adopt and immediately announce even more liberal financial service policies than it already has so that it can try to take advantage of the inevitable relocations that will occur during the period of confusion,” said Ross, who remains vice-chairman of Bank of Cyprus, according to its website.

Industry groups and policymakers have warned of the potential for London to lose financial services if the UK loses Single Market passporting access. Insurance giant Lloyds of London has already announced it will open a subsidiary in the EU, with Malta seen as a possibility.

Ross’s reported comments show an unsympathetic view of the UK at a time when the government is trying to rekindle the “special relationship” as the new administration under Trump takes office.

Read more: Yes, Icahn: Donald Trump appoints Carl Icahn as special adviser

Outgoing President Barack Obama had previously warned the UK would be at the “back of the queue” for trade deals if it left the European Union. However, Trump was in favour of Brexit, even comparing it with his own electoral exploits as “Mr Brexit”.

Ross, who was one of Trump’s earliest supporters, has criticised the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and advocated strong tariffs on China.

He is estimated to be worth $2.5bn by Forbes, joining other extremely wealthy former business executives in Trump's transition team.