If we are to believe the digital kangaroo court that is social media (especially Twitter) then Sir James Dyson should be stripped of his knighthood and have his successful business nationalised, together with other beastly things too sordid to mention.
He sparked a frenzy of criticism after announcing his eponymous vacuum cleaner company intends to move its corporate HQ to Singapore. What made this announcement especially spicy was that Dyson came out publicly as an arch-Leaver during the EU referendum. Was his decision an admission that his business would be better off leaving Britain after Brexit?
The critics overlooked the fact that he already has operations in Singapore, and that last year he announced that his electric vehicle building plant would be located there. He was criticised at the time for not locating the new plant in the UK. His defence was that the planned 8,000 units per annum were destined for the Chinese market and it made good business sense to assemble in Asia.
Dyson employs more than 4,000 workers in the UK and a further £200m is being invested in its Wiltshire plant. Its business model is typical of many international businesses that produce electrical and white goods, conducting their R&D and design in their home country but manufacturing close to their large markets or where costs are lower. Apple designs its products in California and makes them in China.
Likewise, Dyson retains R&D and design in the UK and manufacture overseas. Moving the head office essentially involves just two executives relocating to Singapore. It does not change the business from being intrinsically British, nor does it mean that Dyson himself is abandoning Britain.
Companies move operations around all the time. Ford relocated UK Transit production to Turkey and Jaguar switched its Discovery assembly to Slovakia – before anyone had thought about Brexit.
That said, Sony has declared that Brexit is a factor in its decision to move its operations to the Netherlands (although there may be tax advantages – memo to Philip Hammond: Britain could do something similar). Airbus is also alarmed by Brexit and has warned of the damaging impact of No Deal, but it is more likely to relocate to China or the US, and not elsewhere in the EU.
What we have to avoid, though, is bringing Brexit into every international business decision – tarnishing undeservedly those who move operations out of Britain for perfectly sound reasons.
Alan Sugar, a Labour-supporting remainer, pays a huge personal tax bill to the UK Exchequer although decades ago he relocated much of his manufacturing to the far east. It made for good business sense in a highly competitive market. No one would say he has abandoned Britain.
Dyson is no different for supporting Brexit. We need more James Dysons and Alan Sugars to show that business will find its rightful place to suit its market, not political prejudice.