Sir James Dyson, pictured, is moving his company’s headquarters from Wiltshire to Singapore, although the firm denies this is due to Brexit or the city-state’s lower corporation tax rate
Sir James Dyson is the most successful entrepreneur and inventor in Britain today, which is why the Brexit-supporting billionaire’s decision to shift his company HQ from Wiltshire to Singapore is such a body blow.
His colleagues – Sir James was not around to make the announcement personally – claim it was nothing to do with saving tax or with Brexit. Perish the thought!
It was, they say, motivated by the opportunity to sell more appliances in Asia.
Whatever the rationale, it is an appallingly ill-timed move: the symbolism is dreadful.
Sir James is far too astute not to realise that critics will interpret it as the hypocrisy of a rich Brexiteer. He will be branded as a man who delivered an almighty snub to Britain at a time when the country needs him most, as we seek to build our economy from outside the EU. And the bombshell comes at a critical point in negotiations over our departure, when entrepreneurs without Sir James’s vast personal fortune are terrified of losing their livelihoods.
They do not have the option, as he does, of simply moving their HQ to another continent – they will have to battle to keep their businesses afloat no matter how tough Brexit may be.
Such worries are unlikely to trouble the tycoon, whose personal property portfolio includes a home in Singapore – handy for the new head office – and a £57million Manhattan penthouse he bought in November.
He will be branded as a man who delivered an almighty snub to Britain at a time when the country needs him most, as we seek to build our economy from outside the EU
Sir James, pictured, received EU funding worth £2.8 million in 2017, according to the Financial Times
Even before the furore, accusations of hypocrisy have already been levelled at Sir James over his extensive interests in farming and renewable energy in the UK. He received financial support from EU schemes adding up to £2.8million in 2017, according to the Financial Times. Sir James has in the past defended the payments, saying they help competition against heavily subsidised EU farms.
Nonetheless, taking the Brussels shilling will strike some as incongruous.
In terms of the tax situation, it’s true that the UK’s own corporation tax rate is now very competitive, so there may not be much immediate saving to be made by moving to Singapore. But Sir James has in the past expressed admiration for the city state’s low-tax, low-regulation economy, where the maximum personal rate is around half the top level here.
It is possible the relocation is a pre-emptive move for fear a future Corbyn government will hike corporate taxes, as Labour has threatened. If so, that would be disappointing – the UK needs business people of the calibre of Sir James to stand and fight off the Corbynite menace, not get out while the going’s good.
The move eastwards is not new. The company has been manufacturing overseas since the early 2000s, when it shifted a large tranche of production to Malaysia. Since then, it has continued to be a big investor in the UK, ploughing tens of millions of pounds into research, along with an institute that trains undergraduate engineers.
In the short term, none of that is under threat – though there’s no doubt that when a company’s head office moves out of the UK, the centre of gravity shifts. In the long run, that may lead to jobs being lost here, or new ones being created elsewhere.
Sir James deserves admiration for creating such a successful company – just the sort of enterprise Britain needs to prosper after Brexit. And yesterday should have been a celebration of the fact the firm’s annual profits have leapt past the £1billion mark for the first time.
What a terrible shame the tributes have been drowned out by an ill-judged act of desertion.