Liam Fox: Brexit more complicated than a packet of Walkers

PUBLISHED: 16:23 27 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:24 27 February 2018

International trade secretary Liam Fox

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International trade secretary Liam Fox used a setpiece Brexit speech today to lash out at opponents, taking a swipe at Labour and dismissing his former permanent secretary who had questioned the government's approach.

Sir Martin Donnelly, who left his role as permanent secretary to Dr Fox's Department of International Trade last year, today said that Britain leaving the European customs union to strike free trade deals with countries outside the EU was "giving up a three-course meal for the promise of a packet of crisps".

Sir Martin said 60% of UK trade was either with the EU or the countries it had trade agreements with and that any divergence from Brussels rules would deal a blow to British services which would not be compensated for through deals with nations like the US.

But, giving a speech today on trade policy post-Brexit, Dr Fox hit back, saying: "It is unsurprising that those who spent a lifetime working within the European Union would see moving away from the European Union as being threatening."

The disgraced former defence secretary said the UK could reach agreements with the EU as well as other nations.

"It is not a choice of one or the other. And, in any case, I think the UK Brexit process is, as we have all discovered, a little more complex than a packet of Walkers."

The anti-Hard Brexit grassroots campaign Open Britain was handing out free Walkers crisps outside Bloomberg's London HQ, the venue for Dr Fox's speech.

Referring to Sir Martin's claim that the UK would need a fairy godmother to get the EU deal it was seeking, Dr Fox said: "Neither Sir Martin, with all due respect, nor anyone else has seen the full details of what was agreed at Cabinet last week at Chequers.

"And the prime minister sets those out on Friday; I think people will find that what we need is a hard-headed leader, not a fairy godmother."

Dr Fox also took a swipe at Labour's stance, saying: "If you sign up to a customs union you will have to accept the agreements that are reached by others without you having any say in it.

"And if you don't like what they decide, that's tough.

"So, my message to the incoherent, inept and clueless performance of the Labour Party in recent days is, you can't wish the outcomes without wishing the means to deliver those outcomes.

"And, there doesn't seem to have been much thought given to what could be imposed upon the United Kingdom through a customs union if we didn't want it.

"The approach that I set out is UK control over UK trade policy. What the Labour Party is setting out is a dive into the unknown and having to accept rules that are made by others and not by themselves."

The international trade secretary also used the speech to unveil his secret weapon in boosting export figures - some posters with a new logo on them.

He told business leaders that export success stories needed to be trumpeted and used as examples of what can be achieved as he signalled a new advertising drive.

"So, when people say 'it's too difficult for me', you can say, as we have in our latest campaign, 'If I Can You Can'," he said.

"Posters you'll be seeing around the country quite soon."

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