Brexit backer Dyson says hypocrisy claim over HQ move abroad 'incredibly harmful'

James Dyson arrives at the High Court in London

By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) - James Dyson, the billionaire inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, told London's High Court a 2022 newspaper column that branded him a hypocrite who had "screwed" Britain was "not only wrong but incredibly harmful" to his reputation.

Dyson is suing Daily Mirror publisher MGN over print and online articles by Brian Reade that lambasted him for moving the global head office of his company from Britain to Singapore after championing the economic benefits of Brexit.

Under the headline: "Message to young folks today is that cheats do prosper", Reade included Dyson in a rogues' gallery of people whom it was alleged had acted illegally or dishonestly, the 76-year-old said in a witness statement published on Tuesday.

Dyson said that, as someone who had invested heavily in Britain and its young people, he found the criticism "particularly damaging and distressing".

MGN argued in its defence that an honest person could hold the opinion that Dyson was a hypocrite, given he had publicly supported the benefits of Britain leaving the European Union and then moved his company's global head office abroad after Brexit.

Dyson's approach to the lawsuit was "wholly disproportionate and abusive" and MGN would seek to have the case thrown out of court at the end of the trial, MGN's lawyer Adrienne Page said in court filings.

Dyson's company, which makes vacuum cleaners, air purifiers and other appliances, said in January 2019 it was moving its corporate office to Singapore to be closer to its Asian markets.

It said at the time the move was not driven by Brexit or by tax, with much of its product development remaining in south west England.

Dyson said on Tuesday that Asia was "logically" the right place for the company, giving its manufacturing and much of its sales were there.

"The decision to establish the global headquarters had nothing to do with Brexit at all, nor did it conflict with or render hypocritical my previous statements, let alone amount to me screwing the country or setting a poor moral example to young people," he said in his statement.

"It simply reflected the long-term commercial reality of Dyson's global business operations."

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Additional reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Mark Potter)