Labour brand the comments ‘grossly offensive’
Tackled about the comments, revealed in a leaked recording, Ms Truss said: “I don’t know what you are quoting there.”
In a leaked recording, first revealed by the Guardian, Ms Truss suggested that British employees lack the “skill and application” of foreign rivals and need “more graft”.
Her words have echos of those contained in a book she co-authored a decade ago. That labelled British workers among the “worst idlers in the world”. Last month Ms Truss said she had not written that chapter, blaming the deputy prime minister Dominic Raab.
A source from her team attempted to brush aside the latest row, telling the newspaper: “These half-a-decade-old comments lack context but one thing that is as clear today as ever before is a need to boost productivity, which leads to higher wages and a better quality of life for workers right across the UK. As prime minister, Liz will deliver an economy that is high wage, high growth and low tax.”
Later, when she was asked about the comments during a hustings in Perth, Ms Truss said: “I don’t know what you are quoting there.”
She went on to say “the point I have always made is we need more productivity in this country”.
In the leaked recording, she said: “I once wrote a book about this which got mischaracterised – British workers produce less per hour than … and that’s a combination of kind of skill and application.”
She went on: “If you look at productivity, it’s very, very different in London from the rest of the country. But basically … this has been a historical fact for decades. Essentially it’s partly a mindset and attitude thing, I think. It’s working culture, basically. If you go to China it’s quite different, I can assure you.”
She added: “There’s a fundamental issue of British working culture. Essentially, if we’re going to be a richer country and a more prosperous country, that needs to change. But I don’t think people are that keen to change that.
“There’s a slight thing in Britain about wanting the easy answers. That’s my reflection on the election and what’s gone before it, and the referendum – we say it’s all Europe that’s causing these huge problems … it’s all these migrants causing these problems. But actually what needs to happen is more … more graft. It’s not a popular message.”
During the hustings Ms Truss came under sustained attack from her rival Rishi Sunak, who claimed millions could be tipped into destitution under her plans to cut taxes and that the party would never be forgiven by the public.
Both ruled out a price freeze on energy bills like that suggested by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Ms Truss also backed pensioners receiving a potentially double digit income boost in line with inflation, saying she believed in the ‘triple lock’.
She also ruled out a referendum on Scottish independence, saying the 2014 vote had been a once in a generation event.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “With wages shrinking thanks to Tory failure to bring inflation under control and years of lacklustre growth, it’s grossly offensive for Liz Truss to effectively brand British workers lazy. I would have hoped she had moved on from the days of her ‘Britannia Unchained’ fiasco, but it seems that is the blueprint for her prospective government.
“Workers across the country are working all hours to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and provide for their families.
“Liz Truss should be helping working people to cope with this cost of living crisis… not peddling this offensive nonsense.”