Brexiteers in Theresa May's Cabinet are 'clueless' about economics, says former Tory Treasury minister

Ashley Cowburn

High-profile members of Theresa May’s Brexit team, including Boris Johnson, have been branded as “ludicrous” and “clueless” about the economy by a former Conservative Treasury minister.

Lord O’Neill of Gatley, who left the Government in September of 2016 and was appointed by George Osborne, added that it was “mad” for ministers to channel so much energy into markets such as New Zealand rather than China.

In bruising comments, published in the German newspaper Die Welt, the former Goldman Sachs economist, said: “Brexiteers in May’s Cabinet like Boris Johnson or Michael Gove were very intellectual, smart people.

“But they have no clue about the world of economy. They are clueless, sadly. Clueless.”

Lord O’Neill – now a crossbench peer after resigning the Conservative whip following reported disagreements with the Prime Minister over her approach to China – continued: “Within a week of the [EU] referendum the Chinese approached us about a free trade agreements.

“Under Cameron and Osborne they would have had that discussion 15 months ago. Theresa May, on the contrary, doesn’t get out and about and think about China.”

Referring to the Government’s strategy and recent trips to New Zealand, he continued: “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. And Liam Fox and our ludicrous foreign minister spend half of their life going to New Zealand. It’s mad.”

But Lord O’Neill’s remarks come after Mr Fox urged opponents of Brexit to end “obsessive criticism”, adding before a visit to China: “Brexit is not a time bomb to be defused but a great opportunity to be embraced.”

In an article for Conservative Home, he continued: “One of my most frequent, and frustrating, experiences of 2017 was returning from a positive and optimistic international visit only encounter a wave of criticism at home”.

“The interest being shown in Britain overseas, and an increasing willingness to trade and invest with us, was in stark contrast to the self-defeating pessimism that is too often on show from certain politicians, commentators and media outlets over here.”

And on Wednesday, it emerged that Britain is exploring the possibility of joining a trans-Pacific bloc after Brexit in a bid to find alternative markets for exports that currently go to Europe.

But the move was immediately criticised. Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said it “smacks of desperation” while Simon Fraser, previously the most senior civil servant in the Foreign Office, tweeted: “Welcome to cloud cuckoo land.”

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