Among some of the more committed anti-Brexit activists it has become fashionable to levy the charge of hypocrisy against pro-Leave business figures whose commercial activity appears insufficiently patriotic.
For those Remainers for whom Brexit is synonymous with an inward-looking philosophy and a narrowing of the UK’s horizons, it is incompatible for someone to support Brexit at home while pursuing commercial opportunities around the world.
The most recent and high-profile subject of this criticism is Sir James Dyson. When the engineering tycoon announced plans to relocate his head office to Singapore, it generated howls of outrage from across the political spectrum.
Former Tory minister Sam Gyimah said it was a “betrayal of the public” while Lib Dem rising star Layla Moran described it as an act of “staggering hypocrisy”.
Neither of these accusations stand up to scrutiny, but the award for the most baffling line of attack goes to Labour’s shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, who said the decision was symptomatic of “a culture of short-termism”.
In fact, Dyson’s move is just the latest stage of a long-term strategy that began in 2002 when production moved to Malaysia. With his focus now on taking a slice of the market for electric vehicles, Singapore is the place to be – granting as it does easier access to the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean markets. This is true regardless of Brexit and Dyson’s strategy is, in his own words, about “future-proofing” the business.
As for Dyson’s UK operations, he will remain a massive investor in (and champion of) British engineering talent, still employing nearly 5,000 UK staff and still being taxed on the intellectual property generated and registered here.
It was estimated over the weekend that Dyson and his family paid nearly £130m in tax last year, with around £95m of that being generated by the company. The firm will still be a significant contributor to HMRC though it may, of course, benefit from a new tax environment surrounding the generation of future intellectual property and sales in Singapore. But as a growing global technology business, this is hardly surprising and wouldn’t be contentious were its chairman not a Brexit supporter.
The outrage thrown at Dyson over the last few days has either been confected or whipped up by people who simply don’t understand successful international businesses.