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Dyson moans about state of UK science and tech, forgets to suck up his own mess

Brexit-supporting offshore merchant wonders what has happened to all the investment

Opinion If one man should know how living with the consequences of his own actions might suck, it's James Dyson.

The billionaire vacuum cleaner salesman has picked a UK national newspaper to vent his frustration at what he sees as the British government's "scandalous neglect of science and technology businesses," citing a Times piece about the island nation's poor track record in semiconductor investment.

Dyson, who founded his eponymous bag-less vacuum cleaner company in the early 1990s in England, also let rip about rocketing corporation tax, damaging work-from-home legislation, and rules on "non-compete" clauses for workers which only extend to three months – a risk to intellectual property, he contended.

"Dyson has just announced an investment of £100 million in a new technology centre in Bristol but we are investing far more in modern, forward-looking economies elsewhere in the world that encourage growth and innovation rather than deter them. Meanwhile, the prime minister refuses to meet entrepreneurial, technology-focused employers and investors like me," he said in the letter to The Times.

Strange then how it slipped Dyson's mind that other factors are contributing to the UK's struggle to compete on the global science stage, like, say, Brexit – that country-dividing decision which scientists said would be bad for the UK field.

They are still saying that now. Leading science journal Nature decried the UK's alternative to the Horizon program, the EU's €95.5 billion ($91 billion) science investment vehicle, which the UK has remained locked out of due to a series of post-deal disagreements over Northern Ireland.

Should Dyson be surprised at the state of affairs resulting from the decision to leave the EU, which he was so firmly in favor of? He believed that Brexit would make Britain such a brilliant place to do science and tech business, in fact, that he promptly chose Singapore for the global HQ of his company.

Then there is the entrepreneur's chumminess with Boris Johnson, who led the Brexit referendum campaign and later became prime minister on the promise of "getting Brexit done." Dyson famously texted Johnson to ensure there will be no extra tax implications for staff developing ventilators in the UK, at the request of the government, during the early stages of the pandemic.

How can Dyson have assumed Johnson was anything other than trustworthy? It was the bloviating political behemoth, after all, who set the tone during the post-referendum years when he allegedly quipped "fuck business" at the suggestion that a hard-line departure from the world's largest economic bloc was not the most commercially wise trajectory. It was a decision which arguably also deprived any science or tech startups of unrestricted access to one of the world's richest markets.

Dyson might be excused, though, for directing some his ire at the UK's current prime minister. It is Rishi Sunak who is responsible for sorting out the UK science and tech strategy since he wrested power from Liz Truss a lifetime – sorry, six months – ago. Sunak's latest effort – a move to rebrand the UK as the Unicorn Kingdom – was deemed sufficiently hilarious to make it onto BBC radio's flagship current affairs satire, The News Quiz.

It is at this point we might remind ourselves that Dyson's company doesn't just make vacuum cleaners that suck. It also makes blade-less cooling towers, just in case you need a tool for dealing with large quantities of hot air. ®

Editor's note, added May 17, 2023

Representatives of Dyson have been in touch on a number of points. First, they wish to say Dyson did not move its headquarters from the UK to Singapore. Instead, Dyson chose to set up its first global HQ in Singapore. Furthermore, they would like you to know Dyson employs 3,500 people in the UK and that it has made £1.4bn of investment in R&D in the country over the past decade.

Second, the representatives told us James Dyson texted Boris Johnson seeking clarification that the international team Dyson was deploying to meet the Prime Minister's request for help in the pandemic would not suffer unduly financially by travelling to the UK to undertake the work for the government during a national emergency. Finally, they would like to assure you that neither James Dyson nor the Dyson company pays any less tax in the UK as a result of offshore manufacturing.

We are happy to bring you this information and to update our article to reflect this.

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