Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are “clueless” about the world economy, a former Tory Treasury minister has declared.
Lord O’Neill of Gatley said that Johnson was a “ludicrous” figure and that he and Liam Fox were “crazy” to focus on trade deals with Commonwealth countries like New Zealand rather than China.
The 60-year-old former Goldman Sachs economist, who served under George Osborne until last year, tore into the Cabinet ministers as it emerged that the UK was considering joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc 4,500 miles away, once it has left the EU.
O’Neill, who coined the term ‘BRICS’ to describe emerging economies in China and India, used an interview with German newspaper Die Welt to attack the Brexiteers in Government such as Johnson and Gove.
“[They are] very intellectual, smart people. But they have no clue about the world economy. They are clueless, sadly. Clueless,” the former minister said.
Johnson and Gove led the Vote Leave campaign that successfully secured Brexit in the EU referendum in 2016.
But O’Neill singled out Johnson and Fox for trying to improve trade with Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
“It’s kind of fantasy. This year, China is going to grow by 6.7 per cent. In nominal GDP-dollar terms, China will create a new Australia this year. It will create 4 New Zealands this year. And Liam Fox and our ludicrous foreign minister spend half of their life going to New Zealand. It’s crazy, crazy.”
O’Neill, who joined the Tory government in 2015 having been an adviser to Gordon Brown under Labour, also attacked Theresa May, saying she “doesn’t get out and about and think about China”.
“Within a week of the [EU] referendum the Chinese approached us about a free trade agreement,” he said.
“Under Cameron and Osborne they would have had that discussion 15 months ago.”
May was forced to delay a trip the country last year after it clashed with Donald Trump’s first visit in November.
Fox is currently on a visit to China, where he will meet government officials and business leaders.
His allies point out that he has flown round the world eight times since his appointment 18 months ago and has visited Australia and New Zealand once each.
A spokesman for the Department for International Trade said: “The International Trade Secretary is visiting China, our fifth largest trade partner, this week as we look beyond the boundaries of Europe to build independent trading relationships with the rest of the world.”
Lord O’Neill’s outspoken remarks came as it emerged that the UK is in tentative talks about joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc with 11 countries such as Mexico, Japan and Canada. Trump has withdrawn from the free trade deal, claiming it was a ‘rape of our country’.
Greg Hands, the minister for trade policy, confirmed the government was open to joining the bloc. “Nothing is excluded in all of this,” he told the Financial Times. “With these kind of plurilateral relationships, there doesn’t have to be any geographical restriction.”
Sir Lockwood Smith, New Zealand’s former high commissioner and a former trade minister, told a conference in London last year: “It’s very easy to do a quick and nasty trade agreement. “There will be plenty of people knocking on the UK’s door. They are easy to do but you will regret them for years afterwards.”
Meanwhile, the FT claimed on Tuesday that Brexit Secretary David Davis had felt sidelined by Theresa May in the final stages of crunch talks with Brussels last month.
The paper said that “those who know Mr Davis well” claim that before Christmas he was contemplating the possibility that somebody else might conclude the Brexit negotiations in 2018.
Friends said he was frustrated at how Olly Robbins, May’s civil service “sherpa” on Brexit talks, had assumed a more central role since he moved into the heart of the Number 10 operation.