Belfast Telegraph

Sir Vince Cable: Theresa May not even slightly interested in economic policy

Theresa May was "never the slightest bit interested in economic policy", a former business secretary has claimed.

Sir Vince Cable took aim at the Prime Minister's ambition to reduce the number of visas for overseas students as he said that achieving "no deal" in negotiations to leave the European Union reflected a "complete lack of any sense of responsibility".

The Liberal Democrats' treasury spokesman, who worked with Mrs May in the Cabinet as part of the 2010-2015 coalition government, said of the Prime Minister: "She has some likeable characteristics and admirable characteristics, but it was always very clear that she was never the slightest bit interested in economic policy."

Sir Vince told an audience during a speech in central London on the economy and business: "There was one issue actually that crystallised it... which is the issue about overseas students.

"In order to meet the target, they reduced or tried to curb visas for overseas students - but they are not immigrants because they don't stay here, they go back, but it fits within the numbers, so they have to be cut."

Sir Vince said that along with other ministers he would say that the policy was "ridiculous" and costing the country "£10 billion a year", and asked why there was an attempt being made to try to "undermine" industry.

"And the answer we got (from Mrs May) was intriguing and revealing and highly relevant to today," he said.

"It wasn't: 'Well, you're wrong', it was: 'So what? What does it matter if it's damaging the economy? We're controlling the immigration.'"

Sir Vince added: "So this is why the crashing out scenario, which is looming now very large, is potentially so disastrous and why the Liberal Democrats have to be absolutely clear that we would not accept that and we would want to provide a route back, an opportunity to think again about this process."

During the speech in Southwark, Sir Vince accused the Tories and Labour of turning their backs on business regarding Brexit.

He said that the UK does not need "to leave the European Union while at the same time leaving the single market and the customs union".

Sir Vince added: "Each of those two things has very profound economic implications which I don't think the Prime Minister understands, and the costs of which have never been spelt out."

He added that leaving the single market was not necessary " to observe the mandate of the referendum", and claimed that the Conservatives were " really badly betraying the interests of not just the country but within it the business community in general".

"If you turn to what's happening on the other side of the Labour party, I find it very difficult to understand why their economic proposals are not being torn to shreds.

"They've progressed from Keynesian economics to Venezuelan economics ... that was the role model.

"Price controls, printing money, nationalise everything that moves or doesn't move - complete economic chaos at the end of it - t hat's their role model."

Sir Vince said the Liberal Democrats would provide a "strong opposition" to a hard Brexit, and "support for a private enterprise competitive market economy, supported by government", and show "fiscal responsibility while providing room for more government investment in key spending priorities".