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Britain is “too lazy and too fat” with businessmen preferring “golf on a Friday afternoon” to trying to boost the country’s prosperity, Liam Fox has said.

The international trade secretary’s remarks, at a Conservative Way Forward event, were recorded by the Times.

Downing Street said he was clearly expressing private views.

Richard Reed, Innocent Drinks co-founder, said Mr Fox “had never done a day’s business in his life”.

Mr Fox, who was a prominent voice within the Leave campaign in the EU referendum, is in charge of negotiating trade deals for the UK once it has left the European Union.

During his speech to activists on Thursday evening he said there needed to be a change in British business culture and said people had got to stop thinking about exporting as an opportunity and start thinking about it as a duty.

“This country is not the free-trading nation it once was. We have become too lazy, and too fat on our successes in previous generations,” he said.

He added: “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 – we’ve got to be saying to them if you want to share in the prosperity of our country you have a duty to contribute to the prosperity of our country.”

In Mr Fox’s speech he also criticised the “Foreign Office view of the world” for focusing on capital cities and diplomacy rather than business, and claimed his new government department had taken charge of “trading elements”.

The comments follow his letter to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, which was leaked to the press, suggesting British trade would not flourish unless the Foreign Office was reduced to a department focused only on diplomacy and security.

Liam Fox says that UK exporters are too often on the golf course to focus on selling their wares overseas.

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