Lobbying row: James Dyson is no stranger to political controversy

He was a bete noire for remainers even before being accused of hypocrisy for relocating his business from Wiltshire to Singapore.

Now Sir James Dyson, one of Britain’s biggest industrialists and Brexit cheerleaders, has been dragged into what the Labour party is dubbing “new Tory sleaze” after texts between him and Boris Johnson about tax and the provision of ventilators were made public.

The episode led to a bruising prime minister’s questions for Johnson. But for Dyson, 73, who made his early fortune keeping the nation’s carpets clean, it is a mess he is likely to transcend.

While the text exchanges demonstrate how close the billionaire vacuum king is to the seat of power, his pronouncements over the past 23 years show a long history of self-serving and flip-flopping political interventions.

In 1998 Dyson lobbied the government to join the euro, arguing it would be “suicide” for British industry if it did not. Two years later, he threatened to expand his then small operations in Malaysia at the expense of his British plant.

In 2014 Dyson did a complete about-turn, becoming a Brexit supporter and energising a hardcore of Eurosceptics who had failed to get traction over many years despite being a thorn in the side for a series of prime ministers including Margaret Thatcher.

By the following year his reversal had earned him the attention of Ukip, which considered him as a potential figurehead for their “out campaign”. And in 2017 he gold-plated his leave credentials, claiming “no deal” would hurt the EU more than the UK.

When Dyson later announced that he was moving his headquarters from Wiltshire to Singapore, he was branded a hypocrite by the remain side, with wags joking that if you needed “a moral vacuum … get a Dyson”.

He maintained the move had “nothing to do with Brexit” and simply allowed his firm to become a global technology company headquarters in the heart of the world’s most innovative region.

But it also stuck in the craw for leave, with the Daily Mail’s veteran city editor writing: “It is all the more hurtful given Dyson’s full-throated backing of Britain’s going it alone outside the stultifying embrace of the EU.” Alex Brummer branded his move “disgraceful” and predicted that even a man with his self-confidence would “see his decision as a betrayal”.

The former business minister Claire Perry said the move looked “terrible” and was a blow to Dyson’s die-hard Brexit supporters.

Dyson, an art graduate turned inventor from Norfolk, now employs 14,000 people with a presence in more than 80 countries and a foundation to inspire new engineers. His wealth is estimated by the Sunday Times rich list to be more than £16bn and he lives in a stately pile in Gloucestershire, set among 300 acres of landscaped park with woods, lakes, lodges, a dower house, an orangery, a church and a walled kitchen garden.

The Guardian

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