Theo Paphitis tells it like it is.
The 58-year-old retail magnate, worth an estimated £280m, voted for the UK to quit the European Union (EU) last year but is critical of how the government is handling the country’s changing relationship with Brussels.
British prime minister Theresa May is unlikely to win the next election — if she manages to cling on to power that long.
The Cypriot-born former Dragon’s Den star and owner of retail chains Ryman Stationery and Robert Dyas says that May hasn’t been honest with the public about the “serious repercussions” of Brexit.
Why? Partly, he insists, because both May and the majority of her cabinet know very little about the real consequences of the UK’s departure from the EU. Paphitis tells Verdict:
The problem we have is that unless the government starts being honest with the electorate, people will do exactly what they did in the EU referendum. You’ll end up with a massive protest vote.
Neither May’s long-term leadership prospects nor a Conservative victory in 2022 seem likely, he says.
However, May was doomed from the outset, he adds, referring to the snap general election in June as “ridiculous”.
It was a blag. If you blag like that in business, you go bankrupt.
Britain’s next prime minister
If May isn’t the right person for the job, is there someone else who might be?
The type of leader Paphitis wants to see is someone who puts their country first, instead of their own self-interest, and very few politicians do.
My criteria is: are they prepared to make the country their number one priority?
Although Paphitis donated £5,000 to Brexit secretary David Davis in July, he doesn’t put Davis’ name forward as the potential future prime minister. Paphitis, who, like Davis, grew up on a council estate and worked his way up the ladder, says diplomatically:
I like David lots, I like his company and I like that he stands for social mobility.
Meanwhile, foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who was a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign “might be amusing over dinner,” but he won’t “bring credibility or certainty” to the country.
No one believes Boris when he claims that the cabinet is united.
As for his own career ambitions, Paphitis has ruled out politics.
I’ve got a life. I would be a crap politician because I’d tell someone that they’re talking absolute nonsense if that’s what I thought. I think I’ll count myself out and continue being a shopkeeper where actions speak louder than words.
While Paphitis is passionate about his job in retail, he is feeling the pressure.
We haven’t got a magic money tree. We have to deal with rising inflation, we have rate increases, we have the apprenticeship levy which is also a cost, and we have minimum wage increases. All of those will mean lower employment in the industry as a way to cut costs.
In the month before the Brexit vote, inflation stood at only 0.3 percent, but it has now jumped up to 2.9 percent, the highest level in five years.
Rising inflation means that retailers could face an extra business rates bill of £280m next year.
Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, is responsible for overseeing the government’s business rates policy.
That whole review of business rates by Sajid Javid is a massive farce. He has got to be the one of the most incompetent politicians to ever hold a cabinet seat. I call him the minister for holidays. I’m massively concerned about business rates rising. We were expecting a decrease. Instead, we got an increase.
For the time being, however, Paphitis is happy about the country’s high employment numbers after the UK jobless rate recently hit a 42-year low.
Uncertainty always affects consumers. If people are worried about their jobs, they stop spending and start saving. As it happens, employment figures are good, and that’s helped to counteract the uncertainty of Brexit.