Kamal Ahmed Economics editor
One of the UK’s most successful business leaders has said that leaving the European Union will liberate the country’s economy.
Sir James Dyson said that it would be suicidal for the EU to impose tariffs on UK goods as it imports £100bn more in value from the EU than it exports.
He also argued that it was vital Theresa May took the UK completely out of the single market even if that meant an end to free trade and free movement of labour.
“They [the EU] are not going to block British imports, and if they did put an import duty on, the import duty is a comparatively insignificant amount, compared with currency fluctuation,” Sir James, who supported Britain leaving the EU, said.
“The last thing they are going to do is impose an import duty – it is suicidal for them.
“I am not worried about that at all. We get on very well with Europe, we export to Europe and it is 16% of our [Dyson’s] global market. Europe is 15% of general trade throughout the world, so we are quite nicely balanced.
“There are very exciting markets outside of Europe – the Far East is expanding at a phenomenal rate.”
Sir James said there should be no compromise on membership of the single market, and that the UK would do far better if it is no longer bound by any EU rules.
“I think we should be absolutely out,” he said.
“If Europe wants to have free trade with us, then that’s great, if they don’t, we won’t.
“It’s the freedom – we don’t have things imposed on us by Brussels.
“We can make our own laws and determine our own future and determine our own trade deals with other countries throughout the world.
“I’m thrilled. I think it is a liberation and a wonderful opportunity for all of us.”
I asked Sir James if he was concerned that, without free movement of labour, companies like his might struggle to hire the talent from abroad that they need.
“Well, I remember a time before 1973 when we joined the European Union when I was working in France – so before we were in Europe we could go and work in Europe and Europeans could come and work here,” he answered.
“I hope that continues to exist. And if it doesn’t, it opens the possibility to hire people from outside of Europe.
“We can employ Chinese engineers, Singaporean engineers, American engineers which we can’t do at the moment.”
Sir James was speaking as the most recent expansion of Dyson’s research and design facility was opened near Malmesbury in Wiltshire.
The £250m technology campus is part of a push to create 3,000 new jobs at the site by 2020, more than doubling the present number.
Sir James said he would like to expand faster, but that a lack of engineering skills in the UK was holding the company back.
“We are now 2,500 people here on this site,” he said.
“We want to expand here – the problem is there aren’t enough engineers. If we could double the number of engineers tomorrow, we would do it. But we can’t – so we have to grow slowly – much more slowly than we would like to.”
He said if there were enough engineers he would like to expand the site to “three or four” times the size within the next 10 years.