Brexit Sucks the Air Out of Dyson's Asia Move

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Vacuum billionaire James Dyson’s decision to move the headquarters of his eponymous firm from an English market town to the bustle of Singapore will inevitably be seen as a verdict on Brexit – whatever the company says to the contrary.

Dyson supported Britain’s campaign to leave the European Union, citing labor laws which he said force him to hire engineers from the trading bloc instead of better qualified equivalents from, for example, Asia. With Brexit stuck in parliamentary purgatory, it looks like the entrepreneur may have just decided to cut and run to where the talent, the manufacturing and the market are. If you can’t re-create Singapore, move to Singapore.

Dyson has also made his irritation with British corporate governance rules known before. Last year, he complained about the U.K. requirement that closely held companies file publicly available accounts – a regulation that hands an advantage to overseas rivals, he told the Financial Times in an interview.

There are, though, plenty of positive reasons why he might plump for Singapore. After giving the world the bag-less vacuum cleaner, Dyson is investing 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) to roll out his own electric vehicle by 2021. He was already preparing to build the car in Singapore, adding to the manufacturing facilities his company already has in the city state.

Singapore’s regulators, too, have actively sought to woo developers of autonomous cars. What’s more, it already has a free-trade agreement with China – Dyson’s biggest addressable market. 

The entrepreneur’s move, then, is less about how Brexit risks making Britain less competitive, and more about how the world’s center of economic and technological gravity is shifting inexorably toward Asia.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.

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