The British International Trade Secretary Liam Fox promised the business community that trade with the EU will be “at least as free” following Brexit.
At least as free
Challenged following his speech to address the question of tariffs, he recalled that the U.K has a trade deficit vis-à-vis the EU. “Who does it harm more if we end up in a new tariff environment,” Fox asked.
Addressing a second question, he said that British access to Europe’s market was to the benefit of the people of Europe, if not for institutions in Brussels.
Speaking to an audience in Manchester, Liam Fox said the British people presented the U.K with “a golden opportunity” to forge new links with the world. Rather than closing to the world, Brexit meant Britain was “free” to make new trade arrangements with the rest of the world. The first deal he expects to sign is with Australia.
WTO membership and hard Brexit
Fox said that World Trade Organization membership meant that there was a truly global trade regime, which he called “post-geographical.” Britain would continue to advocate for free trade outside the EU.
The reference to WTO independent membership means Mr. Fox is advocating “hard Brexit,” with negotiated access rather than membership of the EU single market.
Earlier in the day, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said diplomatically that Britain could not get a better deal than other states outside the EU.
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats and current EU spokesman, Nick Clegg, called Mr. Fox “delusional.” “… Leaving the EU’s customs union and single market will bring a deluge of new Brexit red tape down on the heads of British businesses,” Clegg said.
There is now an emerging consensus that the British government will seek control over immigration and, in order to achieve that, it is willing to sacrifice single market membership. The operative word now is “access.”
At the Conservative Party Conference on Sunday, British Prime Minister Theresa May will face pressure from both Leave and Remain campaigners to clarify the government’s objectives for the forthcoming two-year negotiation.