The former health secretary Sajid Javid has distanced himself from comments made by Liz Truss in a leaked recording, in which she said British workers needed “more graft” and implied they lacked the skills of foreign workers.
When asked about the remarks on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Javid said he did not know the context in which the comments had been made, but he thought British workers were the most hardworking in the world.
Javid, who has backed Truss in the Conservative leadership race, said: “Well, I know what you’re referring to, but I don’t know the context in that comment when it was made. I think it was over a decade ago, but what I do recognise and I’ve long recognised as business secretary, as chancellor, in all the jobs I’ve had in government, is that governments need to do even more to improve our productivity.
“Now, when it comes to British workers, they’re the most hardworking in the world.”
In the recording, made while Truss was the chief secretary to the Treasury, a role she held from 2017-2019, she said: “If you look at productivity, it’s very, very different in London from the rest of the country. But basically … this has been a historical fact for decades. Essentially, it’s partly a mindset and attitude thing, I think. It’s working culture, basically. If you go to China it’s quite different, I can assure you.”
She said there was a “fundamental issue of British working culture”, and that if the UK wanted to be “richer and more prosperous” then that would need to change.
“There’s a slight thing in Britain about wanting the easy answers,” she said. “That’s my reflection on the election and what’s gone before it, and the referendum – we say it’s all Europe that’s causing these huge problems … it’s all these migrants causing these problems. But actually what needs to happen is more … more graft. It’s not a popular message.”
When asked about the comments at a leadership hustings event in Perth on Tuesday evening, Truss maintained that she still thought British workers could be more productive.
She said: “I don’t know what you’re quoting there [but] what we need in this country is more productivity and we need more economic growth.”
Labour has criticised Truss’s comments in the recording. The shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said: “With wages shrinking thanks to Tory failure to bring inflation under control and years of lacklustre growth, it’s grossly offensive for Liz Truss to effectively brand British workers lazy. I would have hoped she had moved on from the days of her Britannia Unchained fiasco, but it seems that is the blueprint for her prospective government.”