Liam Fox: EU trade deal after Brexit should be 'easiest in history' to get

International trade secretary tells Today programme the government is not making contingency plans for leaving without deal

Liam Fox has said a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU should be the “easiest in human history”, but insisted that the UK could survive without one.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, the international trade secretary said: “The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.

“We are already beginning with zero tariffs, and we are already beginning at the point of maximal regulatory equivalence, as it is called. In other words, our rules and our laws are exactly the same.”

However, he went on to concede that securing a deal would probably not be easy in practice. “The only reason that we wouldn’t come to a free and open agreement is because politics gets in the way of economics,” Fox said.

He said the government has had positive talks with the World Trade Organisation about Britain becoming an independent member. “What we are doing is to discuss at the WTO why Britain believes in free trade, why we reject the concepts of protectionism, why we think that we need to liberalise the services economy globally,” he said.

But Fox denied that the government was making contingency plans for the UK crashing out of the EU without a trade deal.

“We don’t want to have no deal. It is much better that we have a deal than no deal,” he said. “We can of course survive with no deal. And we have to go into a negotiation with those on the other side knowing that’s what we think.”

Fox also ruled out the UK continuing to be a member of the single market or customs union. He claimed this was legally impossible if the UK left the EU, despite the example of Norway, a non-EU country that is in the single market but not the customs union.

“You cannot leave the European Union and be in the single market or the customs union, they are EU legal entities,” he said. “That’s the legal definition – if you are out of the European Union, you are not in the single market or the customs union.”

Asked about his future and that of Theresa May, Fox said Brexit was more important than personalities.

“I think the prime minister is likely to be there for the rest of this parliament. I think she has the support of her colleagues in the House of Commons,” he said.

“I think she has a mandate to be the prime minister. I don’t think there is anything to be gained by speculation about leadership.

“We’ve got a job to do, a historic task and that’s what we should concentrate upon, and to be diverted into personality issues doesn’t either do the Conservative party, the government or the country any good.”


Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

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