Liz Truss said British workers should show “more graft” like the Chinese in a leaked recording.
The Foreign Secretary, who is the Tory leadership race front-runner, suggested UK workers lacked the “skill and application” of foreign rivals.
Speaking during her time as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, a role she held until 2019, Ms Truss also suggested London was richer than the rest of the country because of its workers’ “mindset or attitude”.
It follows a furore around a book she co-authored in 2012 in which British workers were described as “among the worst idlers in the world”. She said last month that the description had been written by Dominic Raab, a co-author.
In the recording, leaked to The Guardian, Ms Truss 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.”
“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.
“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.”
Asked about the leaked comments at a Tory leadership hustings in Scotland on Tuesday, Ms Truss said: “The point that I’ve always made is what we need in this country is more productivity across the country and we need more economic growth.”
On Tuesday, Ms Truss’s hopes of winning the Conservative leadership contest received a major boost when 11 Tory whips declared their support for her.
The whips office had remained neutral in the race as Ms Truss battles Rishi Sunak to replace Boris Johnson, but the 11 MPs have now given Ms Truss their public backing.
It comes less than 24 hours after Alun Cairns became the third Tory MP to switch support from Mr Sunak to her campaign.
Andrew Bowie, a supporter of Mr Sunak, insisted on Tuesday that the former chancellor is still “very much in contention” in the contest and there is still a “long way to run”.
However, momentum appears to be with Ms Truss. The two candidates will battle to win over Tory members at the next leadership hustings in Perth on Tuesday evening.
The whips who have declared their backing for Ms Truss are: Stuart Anderson, David T.C. Davies, James Duddridge, David Evennett, Rebecca Harris, Adam Holloway, Gareth Johnson, Scott Mann, Joy Morrissey, Suzanne Webb and Craig Whittaker.
The Tory whips office currently has 16 roles filled by MPs, so the announcement means the majority are publicly backing Ms Truss.
Chris Heaton-Harris, the Chief Whip, said earlier in the leadership race that “the Whips Office will stay neutral throughout the Conservative Party leadership contest”. He has not declared who he is backing.
Mr Sunak’s hopes of winning the leadership race suffered a fresh setback on Monday night as Mr Cairns, a former Welsh secretary, announced that he was switching his support to Ms Truss.
Mr Bowie, who represents West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, was told during an interview on Sky News that Mr Sunak did not appear to be on course to win the leadership contest.
But he said: “We have got many thousands of party members still to speak to and Rishi Sunak is very much in contention to be the next leader of the party, the next leader of this country, and that is what I am working very much to making sure happens.”