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Symbolism has a habit of haunting you. News that James Dyson will move the headquarters of his global high-tech firm from the United Kingdom to Singapore was not lost on Brexit critics.
The 71-year-old billionaire has been a vocal supporter of the UK leaving the European Union and is considered a ‘poster boy’ by EU skeptics.
But the announcement to switch the Dyson group’s HQ just months before the UK is due to cancel its membership of the EU club has triggered an angry backlash from politicians who want to remain in the world’s largest trading bloc.
“An increasing majority of [our] customers and all of our manufacturing operations are now in Asia,” the company said in a statement. “This decision has been occurring for some time and will quicken as Dyson brings its electrical vehicle to market.
“As a result, an increasing proportion of Dyson’s executive team is going to be based in Singapore; positioning them to make the right decisions for Dyson in a quick and efficient way,” the statement added, explaining the reasons behind the corporate move from its base in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Malmesbury in southwest England.
Famed for its cordless vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, fans, and air purifies, Dyson reported annual profits earlier this week of £1.1 billion (US$1.4 billion) for 2018.
The numbers were released just two months after the group announced it would relocate production to Singapore, where it will build an electric vehicle factory as part of a £2.5 billion investment in new technology.
Still, a great deal of the funding will be pumped into the research and development center at Malmesbury, which employs 4,500 staff out of a global workforce of 12,000.
“[This] is not related to Brexit,” Jim Rowan, the chief executive, said on a conference call. “We don’t see any issues regarding Brexit. We are [simply] a global technology company [and] there are huge revenue opportunities in Singapore … [and] China is the poster child of that.”
But political reaction to the decision has been scathing.
Layla Moran, a member of the UK parliament for the Liberal Democrats, led the chorus of discontent.
“This is staggering hypocrisy for Brexit-backing businessman James Dyson,” she said. “It is utterly unbelievable that the business face of Brexit is moving yet another part of his business out of the UK.
“James Dyson can say whatever he wants but he is ditching Britain. This can only be seen as a vote of no confidence in the idea of Brexit Britain,” Moran added.
Rebecca Long Bailey, the business secretary for the opposition Labour Party, accused the Conservative government of lacking a coherent economic policy.
“For too long this government has allowed a culture of short-termism to work its way into some of our greatest British businesses, whilst those businesses doing the right thing and investing in their communities and workforce for the long term are left wanting, with little government support.”
Again, it comes back to symbolism and rhetoric.