Fox's team admit they won't deliver trade deal promise in time for Brexit deadline

PUBLISHED: 12:55 11 February 2019 | UPDATED: 17:57 11 February 2019

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox giving evidence to the Business, Energy and International Trade Committee. Photograph: PA.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox giving evidence to the Business, Energy and International Trade Committee. Photograph: PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Liam Fox's trade department has secretly admitted to some of Britain's biggest businesses that the 40 free trade deals the minister promised to have ready by Brexit day are "unlikely" to materialise.

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The admission, seen by the Press Association, is contained in the minutes of a meeting attended by senior figures at the likes of Burberry, Mulberry and Hornby at a behind-closed-doors event.

At the meeting, Department for Trade officials were probed on the pledge by Mr Fox that he would sign free trade agreements to replicate the EU’s 40 existing deals with countries around the world.

However, the minutes read: “A panel member asked whether it was true (as claimed by Liam Fox) that there were 40 FTAs ready to go, just awaiting a signature and that the only delay was the EU Exit date of 29 March.

“DIT said that there was confidence that some of those agreements could be signed ahead of exit date, although it was unlikely they would all be signed before the leave date. This being so, there would not be continuity from day one of EU exit.”

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Fox has previously said that he’d have “40 trade deals ready for one second after midnight” on March 29. He also said that a “free trade deal with the EU should be the easiest in human history”.

The private event was one of a number of sessions the government is holding with businesses to assess their readiness for a no deal Brexit and to hear concerns.

However, one company representative present said they felt left “high and dry”, adding that no real advice could be given because “they haven’t got a clue what is going to happen”.

Anna McMorrin MP, from the People’s Vote campaign, said: “Another day has gone by and another promise on Brexit is casually being broken.

“This is just the start and things will only get worse. The idea of Liam Fox going into trade negotiations with Donald Trump is like someone taking a teaspoon to a knife fight.

“Brexiters once promised us dozens of new trade deals would be ready to sign the instant we left the EU, but now we know they will not even be able to keep the current deals we have as members of the EU.

“On top of that there is no finalised free-trade agreement with our largest trading partner, merely a framework for a future relationship: a vague promise of a potential free trade agreement with the EU at some unspecified point in the future.

“This is a ‘blindfold Brexit’: the Brexiters are intent on taking us out of the EU with no clarity about the future because they know promises were made that can never be delivered. They’re trying to conceal the full consequences of Brexit while pretending what they’ve failed to achieve in the past two years can be magically negotiated when we’ve handed over our biggest negotiating cards.

“If it goes ahead, Blindfold Brexit will sap energy, talent and resources for a generation and beyond, preventing our politics from addressing any of the huge challenges – from health and housing to automation and climate change – that face our country today.”

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