LONDON (AFP) - UK Conservative Liz Truss, the favourite to become prime minister next month, suggested Britons lacked "skill and application" and needed to work harder, in a leaked audio recording released on Tuesday (Aug 16).
In the two-minute audio clip, which dates from her time as a senior minister in the finance ministry between 2017 and 2019, Truss said workers' "mindset and attitude" were partly to blame for the UK's relatively poor productivity.
"It's working culture basically," she said in the recording, obtained by the Guardian newspaper, adding British workers needed "more graft".
"If you go to China it's quite different, I can assure you.
"There's a fundamental issue of British working culture... I don't think people are that keen to change."
The embarrassing leak comes as Truss emphatically leads rival Rishi Sunak in numerous polls in the race to become prime minister when Boris Johnson stands down early next month.
The party's roughly 200,000-strong membership have already starting voting for their next leader, who then becomes prime minister.
The result of the summer-long contest will be announced on Sept 5, with the new leader set to take charge the following day.
The two leadership contenders, who have waged a bitter battle over recent weeks featuring frequent hostile briefings and counter-briefings by their camps, participated in a hustings event in Scotland on Tuesday evening.
The incendiary remarks by Truss echo controversial arguments made in a 2012 book she co-authored, Britannia Unchained, in which British workers were described as among the "worst idlers in the world".
Asked about it at a leadership debate last month, Truss distanced herself from the contentious assessment, claiming co-author and Sunak supporter Dominic Raab, who is currently justice minister, had penned it.
Raab has subsequently said the writers of the book, which also included several other senior Conservative ministers, had agreed "collective responsibility" over its contents.
In the leaked audio, Truss - who backed remaining in the European Union during the divisive 2016 referendum, before subsequently becoming a Brexit supporter - also appeared to suggest the bloc and migration are unfairly criticised.
"We say it's all Europe that's causing all these problems. It's all, 'it's migrants that's causing problems'.
"But actually what needs to happen is, you know, a bit more graft," she said, with a laugh, before adding "it's not a popular message".
A Truss campaign source branded the leaked comments "half-a-decade-old" and lacking "context", while acknowledging that Britain does "need to boost productivity".
"As prime minister, Liz will deliver an economy that is high wage, high growth and low tax," the source added.
Meanwhile, at the outset of the hustings event in the Scottish city Perth, both candidates reiterated their opposition to another referendum on Scottish independence, after Scots voted narrowly in 2014 to stay in the UK.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's SNP argues that Brexit has transformed the constitutional debate, and wants to hold a second plebiscite in October 2023.
Sunak said he couldn't "imagine the circumstances" in which he would grant another referendum.
The Supreme Court in London plans to hold hearings on Oct 11-12 this year on whether that would be legal without approval from the UK government.
"If I am elected as prime minister, I will not allow another independence referendum," Truss told the audience of Scottish Conservative party members to applause. "We're not just neighbours, we're family and I will never ever let our family be split up."