Trade secretary Liam Fox has criticised UK businesses by saying they have "become too lazy, and too fat." He said this was amid successes in previous generations and warned that the country was "not the free-trading nation that it once was."

At an event hosted for right-wing Tory activists in the House of Commons, Fox added that companies could help deliver greater prosperity, if their executives stopped being more interested in playing golf on a Friday afternoon. Fox, who is responsible for establishing the UK as a global player after Brexit, claimed that the UK companies were not ready to make the best of the trade deals he was planning to negotiate.

Fox, who was a GP before he entered parliament, went on to give hints that he could introduce sanctions on companies that fail to take advantage of new export opportunities. "If you want to share in the prosperity of our country, you have a duty to contribute to the prosperity of our country," he was quoted as saying by the Times.

Addressing supporters of the Conservative Way Forward group, Fox further said, "What is the point of us reshaping global trade, what is the point of us going out and looking for new markets for the United Kingdom, if we don't have the exporters to fill those markets?"

The trade secretary called for a change in the country's culture. He said people should stop considering exporting as an opportunity "and start thinking about it as a duty — companies who could be contributing to our national prosperity but choose not to because it might be too difficult or too time-consuming or because they can't play golf on a Friday afternoon."

He warned businesses that his department would not protect any sector of the economy with import tariffs. He added that they were ready to see them sink or swim in the world where UK is not part of the European Union.

On Friday (9 September), 10 Downing Street said these statements made by Fox represented his personal views and not those of the British government. Fox's spokesman said he was "committed to supporting the full range of businesses in the UK so that they can take best advantage of the opportunities that Brexit represents".