Owen Smith slams UK government over ‘offensive’ North Carolina trading hub

Labour’s Owen Smith has hit out at the UK government for launching a new trading hub in North Carolina – despite controversy over the state’s anti-LGBT law.

North Carolina has lost a string of big investment ventures over Governor Pat McCrory’s decision to sign the contentious HB 2 – which voided all local ordinances protecting LGBT rights, banned transgender people from using their preferred bathroom, and permits businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on the grounds of religious belief.

McCrory continues to insist the anti-trans rules are “common sense” – but the state has faced a string of lawsuits over the law, which major NC employers including Paypal, HP, and Deutsche Bank have condemned.

But in the same week that the NBA confirmed it would be moving its All-Star Game out of the state over HB 2, the UK government yesterday announced the NC state capital Raleigh will be home to a new US trading hub.

Dr Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for the newly-formed Department for International Trade, made the announcement on a visit to the US.

He said: “I am pleased to announce today that the UK government plans to open 3 new offices right here in the United States, in Minneapolis, Raleigh and San Diego.

“Our ambitious vision for an open and outward-looking UK economy includes growing our footprint in the most important markets around the world and these 3 cities offer exciting opportunities to boost trade and investment.”

In response to the announcement, Labour’s Owen Smith – who is challenging Jeremy Corbyn for his party leadership – branded the decision “crass” and “offensive”.

Sharing a PinkNews report, he tweeted: “It’s plain wrong of Liam Fox to base trade office in North Carolina. The very opposite of an ethical foreign policy.”

He elaborated: “Liam Fox has a poor record of standing up for LGBT rights, and I thought it pretty extraordinary of him, when there’s been this furore over NC where the governor has introduced a law in March of this year that discriminates against transgender people.

“It’s so discriminatory that massive companies like PepsiCo and GE have boycotted the state. Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams, too. And where does our bloke choose for his first visit and open his very first office? The capital of North Carolina.

“It is crass stupidity at best. And at worst it’s genuinely offensive.”

The SNP’s Stewart McDonald also slammed the decision.

He wrote: “The new Brexit Britain: Mr Fox trotting the globe in search of a knuckle dragger he can cut a deal with. No thanks.”

The government says the offices “will work to promote UK business, economic and political ties in support of the Consulate General in the region”.

It adds: “Chosen because of their economic productivity and well-established research and development institutions, the 3 cities offer exciting opportunities to boost trade and investment.

“The offices will be ideally placed to build relationships with key companies, politicians and educational centres and to support wider goals on economic reform, market access, innovation and climate change.”

Dr Fox has the worst record on LGBT rights of all current Cabinet members, having never voted in favour of any LGBT legislation during his time in Parliament.

The MP voted strongly against same-sex marriage and gay adoption rights, while he was absent on votes on civil partnerships, the abolition of Section 28, gender recognition, an equal age of consent and the Equality Act.

Ahead of the vote on same-sex marriage in 2013, Fox claimed that the proposals were “absurd” and “divisive”.

The former minister said at the time gay marriage that “smacks of a form of social engineering of which Conservatives should be instinctively wary”.

He told a PinkNews reader at the time: “It proposes to change the definition of marriage for all, for the perceived benefit of a much smaller number.

“Unlike civil partnerships it is not even clear that there is much demand for the change. I have not heard any of the gay friends that I have clamour for same-sex marriage in the way that they demanded the right for civil partnerships.”

Dr Fox, the MP for North Somerset, previously served as Secretary of State for Defence. He was forced to quit in 2011 over allegations about the nature of his relationship with close friend Adam Werritty.

The MP, who tied the knot with wife Jesme Baird in 2005, faced an investigation after reports that Mr Werritty had joined him on 19 official overseas trips, and allegations Mr Werritty had improper access to the Ministry of Defence. Fox denied wrongdoing but admitted “errors of judgement” as he resigned.