International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has defended his visit to a technology show in the US despite ongoing political turmoil in the UK over Brexit, saying it was “absolutely the time to be here”.
Dr Fox had been criticised for attending events around the Golden Globes awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, before spending three days at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to drum up support for investment in Britain.
The trip comes during a crucial time in the Brexit negotiations, ahead of a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, which is expected to take place next Tuesday.
He said he was at the entertainment awards at the request of Bafta to discuss the British film industry and said it was time for the country to “focus on the real world, that is beyond Europe, and where there are tremendous opportunities for the UK”.
“This is a great opportunity, at CES, 200,000 attendees, more than 100 British companies here, three times the number that were here last year and we thought it was sufficiently important to have a Cabinet minister come to beat the drum for British companies,” he said.
“When you think about the importance of tech to the UK economy, £130.9 billion it contributed to the UK economy last year, our exports of digital services were £39 billion, supporting one and half million jobs in the UK.
“Does anyone think that’s not important enough for a minister to be coming to the expo?”
Dr Fox is leading a British delegation of over 100 companies at the annual tech show.
He said he wanted to “highlight” the ability of British companies and that certain parts of Britain needed to “stop wallowing in the sense of misplaced fear around Brexit, and recognise how strong our economy actually is.”
He said the UK was “well regarded” by the rest of the world for its technology industry, but did admit access to workers remained a concern for firms after the UK leaves the EU.
“I think if there is a worry around the Brexit issue, I think it’s about this question of access to labour, what will the ability to attract young Europeans be in that future environment, that’s what they want to know, that’s really their main concern,” he said.
“Our view as a department is that we must that ensure whatever limitations that we place on total migration, that we’re able to ensure a free flow of talent and that that talent can be drawn from across the globe without in any way having bias in favour of any geographical area.”
On Brexit, Dr Fox said: “Parliament decided it couldn’t make a decision on our membership of the EU, and they said on this one issue of sovereignty we’ll contract it out to the British public.
“The British public made a decision.
“Then we had a general election and the two main parties said we will both respect the result of that referendum, so you’ve got a double contract if you like between Parliament and the people.
“Now it’s time for Parliament to honour its side of the contract and to determine exactly what that exit will look like.”
He described any outcome that resulted in no Brexit scenario as a “democratic disgrace” that would take the country into “unknowable territory”.
The minister said it was the types of UK companies appearing at CES that would “guarantee our prosperity” in the future.
“That’s why we thought it was important enough to have a cabinet minister out here, which is not the case for the French or some of our other competitors out there,” he said.
“It is absolutely the time to be here, it’s the right place and it’s the right time and we need to ensure that in world that will be increasingly competitive as new competitors emerge in other parts of the world that we’ll have to redouble our efforts in promoting the UK and what we’re capable of.”