International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has “extremely low credibility” and does not understand the dangers of a “no-deal” Brexit, according to one of Britain’s leading businessmen.
John Neill, the group chairman and chief executive of Unipart, said Dr Fox had spoken of Britain creating a new series of free trade agreements but “not been able to find any evidence” to back up his claims.
He also said that if Britain were to leave the European Union without a deal, the resulting disruption could cause a “cascade of failure” in the supply chain, ultimately raising a question over the viability of Britain’s entire car industry.
Mr Neill has run Unipart for more than 40 years, overseeing its transformation from providing parts to British Leyland to its present-day status as a multinational giant involved in manufacturing, consultancy and supply chains.
He was one of the British business leaders who attended a lunch in Davos on Thursday, at which the Chancellor Philip Hammond asked for their support in delivering a Brexit deal.
Dr Fox was also there, along with the Business Secretary Greg Clark.
Mr Neill told Sky News that “I trust the chancellor to do the best deal he can in the circumstances” but, in a reference to Dr Fox, added that he was “very concerned that people who are saying that a no-deal Brexit is a viable option have not taken the time to understand the way that would affect the economy, and how it would hurt people’s jobs”.
He said that most of Britain’s business leaders “knew exactly” what the chancellor would say, but “respected his position”.
But when asked about Dr Fox, the reply was scathing. “Liam Fox’s credibility is extremely low,” he said.
Dr Fox was in Davos, Switzerland, to hold a series of meetings with business executives and politicians.
Earlier in the week, he told Sky News that moves to extend negotiations beyond 29 March were an attempt “to thwart Brexit altogether”.
He said that would be worse than a no-deal Brexit, a comment that frustrated many in Davos.
“Every European business leader I speak to is dismayed by the position we have put ourselves in,” said Mr Neill.
He claimed that a no-deal Brexit would wreck the supply chains that support Britain’s car industry, raising the question of “which manufacturers would actually want to stay in the UK”.
One of Britain’s senior bankers told Sky News he was presently considering whether to move more than £100bn of assets out of the UK.
When asked what he would do if he had to make the decision now, his immediate response was “I’d move them – I’d have no choice because of the uncertainty and chance of a no-deal Brexit”.
Mike Rake, the former chairman of BT, KPMG, easyJet and the CBI, responded to news of Mr Neill’s criticism by saying the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was “verging on criminal irresponsibility”.
A spokesman for Dr Fox said: “Dr Fox has been clear that it is in everyone’s interests to reach a deal and he wants the UK to leave the EU with a deal.
“However, it is only responsible of him and the rest of the Government, to ensure that the country is prepared for a range of outcomes including the possibility of no deal – which we all want to avoid.”
A friend of Dr Fox said: “The people trying to discredit Liam need to accept that the UK voted to leave the EU in a democratic referendum and the result must be honoured”.
A Department for International Trade source said: “Neither John Neill or Michael Rake requested a meeting with Dr Fox in Davos, therefore, it is unclear why they are publicly attacking him in this way without having discussed the issues with him”.