UK Trade Secretary defends new business hub in North Carolina despite anti-LGBT law

The UK’s Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox has refused to apologise for defying a boycott of North Carolina over its 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 rules are “common sense”, but a string of major employers are boycotting the state over the attack on the rights of their LGBT employees.

However, Theresa May’s new International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox defied the boycott earlier this summer – when he announced the NC state capital Raleigh will be home to a new US trading hub.

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.

He was recently challenged on the decision by Labour’s Chris Bryant in Parliament, after Dr Fox raised concern about Vladimir Putin’s human rights record.

Mr Bryant said: “I warmly endorse what the Secretary of State has just said about Russia. I am glad he is adopting that attitude, but may I urge him to extend the same attitude towards North Carolina?

“I think it bizarre that he has opened a new office in North Carolina, when Deutsche Bank, PayPal and a string of other businesses and many US states are boycotting North Carolina because of its ludicrous homophobic new policy in relation to transgender people.”

But Dr Fox defended the hub.

He said: “I made the point earlier that what we need to do to provide certainty about jobs and profits in the United Kingdom is to be in the markets where we have the greatest maturity and the greatest potential for value.

“That means, in the United States, not just looking at the established areas where we have personnel, but looking to where we have growing markets that can prove to be of value to the United Kingdom, its people and its businesses.”

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

He said: “It’s plain wrong of Liam Fox to base trade office in North Carolina. The very opposite of an ethical foreign policy.”

“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”.

A spokesperson said: “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 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.