Leading British hotelier Sir Rocco Forte has accused “incompetent” Theresa May of bungling Brexit and urged the Government to leave the EU on WTO terms because Europe is an “uncompetitive” place to do business.
Describing the Prime Minister as an “arch Remainer”, the multi-millionaire former Tory donor said a “third-rate negotiator in any middle sized company” would have done a better job of the negotiations, and called for Boris Johnson to take over.
Likening the hysteria around no deal to the millennium bug, he lambasted the Government’s “defeatist” attitude, accusing Mrs May of going “cap in hand” to the EU.
Despite owning 11 hotels including nine in Europe, the 73-year-old entrepreneur said Britain would be “far better off” leaving on WTO terms.
He told the Telegraph: “I’d prefer no deal to anything else because then we’re fully free, we don’t have to pay any money, we can use the £40 billion to invest in the north of England.
“Nothing will be ground to a halt – it’s a bit like the millenium bug. There’s a lot of guff talked, mostly by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
“WTO means frictionless trade. We may have some short term disruption but it’s not going to be very long lived. Fifty-five per cent of our trade is with the rest of the world.”
Describing Europe as a “difficult place to do business” compared to the UK, due to the excessive bureaucracy, higher corporation tax and strident labour laws, Sir Rocco accused Brussels of trying to stifle Britain, saying “the EU fears us becoming more competitive.”
“The Government’s has always insisted the deal is good for business but it’s not,” he added. “It might be good for a very small proportion but 95 per cent of businesses in this country don’t trade with Europe, so why should they be subject to European laws and regulations?”
Employing 2,500 people around the world, he also dismissed concerns about the recruitment of low-skilled workers once we leave.
“I remember the days before we entered the European Union and we were employing foreign staff then. You had to go through the process of getting a permit, they had to have a job to come to, and I think that’s what will happen in the future.”
Sir Rocco, whose wealth is estimated at £250 million, stopped giving money to the Conservatives after John Major left office because “David Cameron didn’t stand for anything”. But he said he would donate again if Mr Johnson was Prime Minister.
“We have a Prime Minister and a Chancellor who are arch Remainers and they don’t believe in disentangling ourselves from Europe,” he said. “These negotiations have been handled in the most incompetent manner from start to finish. Any third-rate negotiator in a medium sized company could have done a better job than the Government.
“From the beginning they’ve gone cap in hand to the European Union. They have a £95 billion trade surplus with us and we’re paying 11 per cent of the budget – those are very powerful negotiating tools which we haven’t used at all.”
Accusing the Government of “wallowing in a sort of naval gazing and feeling sorry for themselves”, he said: “I haven’t felt such a sense of defeatism in this country since the Seventies and then Mrs Thatcher came along and got the country to believe in itself again. We need someone similar to that now and frankly I think Boris is the only one with a vision.”
Addressing criticisms of the former foreign secretary, he added: “This thing that he doesn’t read his briefs is completely untrue. And everybody makes gaffes. How many mistakes had Churchill made before he was elected? No one wanted him as leader, then the moment came and he was the only one to do the job.”
Bournemouth-born Sir Rocco set up his own chain of hotels in 1996, after his father Lord Charles Forte’s company was subject to a hostile takeover.
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