Liam Fox: Current Brexit plans ‘more complicated than a packet of crisps’

The International Trade Secretary was rubbishing claims from a former top official at his department that current proposals to leave the single market and customs union were like “rejecting a three course meal” for “a packet of crisps”.

He rejected the claim from ex-permanent secretary Sir Martin Donnelly, saying: “It’s unsurprising that those that spent a lifetime within the EU would see moving away from it as being threatening.

“The particular choice that I heard Martin Donnelly outline I don’t believe that is the choice that we face.”

The comments came in a speech to British businesses at Bloomberg in central London, forming part of a mini-series by ministers meant to recapture the momentum of Brexit.

Dr Fox went on the offensive against Labour, after Britain’s biggest business group – the CBI – backed Jeremy Corbyn’s call to remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

“There doesn’t seem to be much thought given to what would be imposed on the UK if we didn’t want it,” Dr Fox said.

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He ruled out any control from Brussels over trade deals struck by the UK after March 2019 – saying it would require “flexibility and agility”.

And Dr Fox claimed 90% of global growth in the next 10-15 years will be outside Europe.

Remaining inside the tariff-free EU trade zone “would limit our ability to reach new trade agreements with the world’s fastest-growing economies”, he said.

In response, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said Dr Fox was “divorced from reality and isolated from British businesses and workers”.

The comments came as EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier claimed there “has not been any progress” on unresolved issues from the phase one deal – known as the Withdrawal Agreement.

He said an open-ended transition was “not possible” and agreed with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker the UK’s trade position was an “illusion”.

Mr Barnier also dealt a blow to Boris Johnson, who compared the Northern Ireland border to the boundary between two London boroughs.

Asked about the Foreign Secretary’s comment, he said: “For me what counts here is what the British Prime Minister says.”

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