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Interview: Liam Fox on Brexit ‘betrayal,’ the NHS, trade deals and Trump



liam fox mp
Liam Fox MP.
Taylor/Getty Images

  • UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox tells
    Business Insider that fears of the NHS being sold off as part
    of any post-Brexit trade deal with the NHS are
  • He accuses critics of a potential Trump trade deal
    “anti-capitalist” and “anti-trade”.
  • Fox says Britain should leave the EU without a Brexit
    deal rather than extend negotiations.
  • Read Business Insider’s full exclusive interview with
    Fox below.

SAN FRANCISCO & LONDON: Fears that the UK government will
sell off parts of the National Health Service as part of any
post-Brexit free trade deal are baseless “myths” that are being
pushed by anti-capitalists in an attempt to scare the public, the
International Trade Secretary has told Business Insider.

The prime minister Theresa May caused controversy earlier this
after refusing to rule out including the NHS
in any free
trade deal with the NHS.

However, ministers have since insisted that there will be no
attempt to increase private ownership of elements of the health
service as part of any Trump trade deal. 

Speaking to Business Insider in San Francisco last
 Liam Fox called the claims “the same old anti-trade

“[This is] the same old
anti-trade rubbish that we got with the [proposed US-EU trade
deal]  T-TIP,” Fox told BI.

“And however often, even
including legislating, that we say to these groups, that this is
not going to happen, they raise the same specters, the same myths
over and over again.

“Because the truth it’s not
[EU-Canada trade deal] CETA or T-TIP that they’re against, it’s
any trade deal. They are anti-trade, they are anti-capitalist

In a wide-ranging interview with
BI, the International Trade Secretary also said that:

  • The EU needs to provide Britain with more guidance for
    what it wants from Brexit, or it will result in a no-deal
  • The European Commission is putting “political ideology”
    ahead of  the “economic wellbeing of the people of
  • If necessary, Britain should leave the European Union
    without a Brexit deal rather than extending Article 50, and to
    do otherwise would be a “complete betrayal.”
  • Concerns about the impact on the NHS by a UK-US trade
    deal are being pushed by “anti-capitalist” groups.

Fox also defended his previous remarks that a UK-EU trade deal
post-Brexit should be the “easiest in human history,” arguing
that it “should be an easy one,” but it’s the “political elements
that are proving troublesome.”

After Business Insider published his warning against extending
Brexit negotiations last week, Fox
was hailed by backbench Tory MP and key Brexiteer Jacob
, who said “extending article 50 is the definition
of failure for the Government.” 

Stewart Jackson MP, who was the chief of staff to former Brexit
Secretary David Davis, also backed Fox, saying that any attempt
to extend Article 50 would
lead to a leadership challenge against May.

You can read the full interview below. It has been lightly
edited for length and clarity.

BUSINESS INSIDER: Earlier today Barnier said that the EU
wasn’t willing to “delegate” its customs setup to the UK. Where
does this leave Theresa May’s Chequers plan? Is it dead in the

LIAM FOX: No. So the EU then need
to tell us how they intend to get the frictionless borders that
we want to see. They can’t keep rejecting things without telling
us exactly what it is they want.

So negotiations will continue,
and we’ll want to know from them if they don’t want that as a
proposal, what do they want, because if they keep saying no to
everything they will end up with no deal.

And do you think that frictionless goods in terms of
trade of goods is possible without having a traditional customs
union? Because they seem to have implied it’s not.

Well it is possible. They simply
don’t want to make this particular method work. So it’s clear
that it is possible, but it requires political will to do so. The
question will be whether the EU 27 leaders are willing to see the
Commission’s political ideology put ahead of the economic
wellbeing of the people of Europe.

What the Commission seem to be
saying is look, there has to be Brexit on their terms, or no deal
at all. Now, that may be in line with their own theological
attachment to ever-closer union and EU treaties, but it may have
a large cost to EU member states, the member states who require
jobs, prosperity, and trade, because they need to get elected
unlike the Commission officials.

theresa may liam foxGetty

You say you need to have them come back and come up with another
idea, but I guess their counter to that would be: It’s Britain
who wants to leave, so the onus should be on us to find something
that’s acceptable to them.

No, absolutely not. We have a
legal right to leave under the Lisbon Treaty, and they have a
legal duty to help us look at the relationship afterwards.

So this idea that Britain’s doing
something outlandish, not only was it our legal right it was a
right underwritten by the other 27 in the Lisbon Treaty.

What would your message be for the Brits who are
understandably concerned about some of the headlines they’re
seeing about the government stockpiling medicine or food in case
of a no-deal?

Well, first of all I’d tell them
not to listen to the hysteria from some of our press.

But we are making clear to the
European Union that we are making preparations for no-deal
otherwise no-deal does not become a legitimate negotiating or
credible negotiating position.

Are you willing to rule out opening up the NHS to further
competition as part of the terms of a trade deal with the

Well we’ve made clear our general
approach to these things, and you can see it most clearly in the
CETA agreement between the EU and Canada, which we said will be
the basis for a bilateral agreement afterwards.

And if you look at Chapters 23
and 24 of CETA it makes it quite clear governments cannot water
down either their environmental or labour legislation simply to
improve trade, nor does it in any way limit the government’s
ability to regulate their public services. In fact in
specifically reserves the right to, for governments to regulate
their own public services including the National Health

So again we’re getting the same
old anti-trade rubbish that we got with T-TIP. And however often,
even including legislating, that we say to these groups, that
this is not going to happen, they raise the same specters, the
same myths over and over again.

To attempt to extend our membership even longer, many voters
would regard as a complete betrayal by the political class, and I
think they would be right.

Because the truth it’s not CETA
or T-TIP that they’re against, it’s any trade deal. They are
anti-trade, they are anti-capitalist groups.

In the conversations you’re having with the US, what are
the sort of things the White House is saying that it wants to
prioritise in a trade deal with the UK?

We’re not at the point of being
able to negotiate of course, but we are setting out the sort of
options that we might have. We don’t know what position will be
that we will end up with the European Union, therefore it’s not
entirely clear to anyone that we would be negotiating with what
is on the table.

But even if you looked at the
deal that we suggested to the European Union, then we would still
have complete control over tariffs and quotas for example,
including in manufacturing goods, including in agricultural
goods, so it does give us quite a scope.

There will be those who say well
you need to be able to move away from EU rules on agricultural
goods, or sanitary and phytosanitary regulations for example, but
even if we weren’t under a legal obligation to maintain those
there’s still a very strong political pressure to maintain those
animal welfare rules and consumer quality of goods.

So we first of all have to get a
deal with the European Union that gives us enough access to the
European market to be able to continue business as it is, and
secondly, without tying our hands in a broader sense, and
secondly when it comes to these other trade agreements, it’s
being able to give adequate protection to producers but also
adequate confidence to consumers.

Liam FoxREUTERS/Peter Summers

At last year’s Conservative Party conference, you said
you’d have 40 trade deals signed the minute after Brexit
. Is
that still your commitment?

These are agreements we already
have, that we want to roll over into UK law, and we haven’t had
any, we haven’t had any views expressed to us by any of those
countries that they don’t want to continue.

I mean clearly as a lot of them,
all of them in fact, are smaller economies than the UK, they want
a continued access to the world’s fifth-biggest economy. There
are some technical issues about dis-aggregation of quotas but
they are all being fully discussed at the moment and again if we
don’t get that rollover it means those countries don’t get access
to the UK.

So you haven’t heard people say they don’t want to
continue. Have you had, or how many of them have you had
expressly, positively said— [cross-talk]

Oh we’ve spoken to all of

And they’ve all been positive?

And they’re all positive. They
all want to at least be in discussion about the details. So
there’s no-one who’s said that we’re not interested.

And you said striking a free-trade agreement [with the
EU] would
be one of the easiest in human history
in terms of deals. Do
you still stand by that?

No no, what I said was, in trade
terms the EU should be an easy one. But it’s never been the trade
elements that are difficult in the EU it’s the political

What I was saying was, if you
start an agreement where you already have 100% identity of
regulations and laws then that should be technically easy. But of
course it’s not the trade that’s the difficult part, as we’ve
discovered today, it’s the political elements that get in the

And the ultimate question is, you
know, it can be as easy or as difficult as our trading partners
want to make it, and there will be a very high price to pay, as
I’ve said before, in a number of European countries, particularly
countries like Ireland and the Netherlands and Belgium, if we
don’t get an agreement.

Where do Trump’s recent comments about Theresa May’s
plans for Brexit leave hopes of a deal between the UK and the

Well, the President at his press
conference with the Prime Minister made it very clear that he
wants to get a trade agreement, and I had very interesting
discussions in the last few days with Ambassador Lighthizer and
Wilbur Ross and others about how we take forward the working
groups that are already in existence.

So it’s a matter of trying to
keep that work going, at the same time launching our public
consultations which we need to do to be ready on time. As you
know, we’ve launched four of those to ask the public what their
level of ambition, what the level of ambition ought to be on each
of those potential agreements, and that’s United States,
Australia, New Zealand, and potential membership of TPP.

trump may
Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip May greet U.S.
President Donald Trump at Blenheim Palace on July 12, 2018 in
Woodstock, England.

Ben Stansall – WPA
Pool/Getty Images

And are you disappointed with Trump’s trade actions with regards
to China?

Well there are two different
elements there. There is the 301 dispute with China and then
there’s the 232 on steel and aluminium tariffs. We don’t disagree
with the analysis of the problem.

Clearly there’s been a big
problem with the dumping of Chinese steel, clearly there’s a
problem with lack of access to the Chinese markets, particularly
in service, clearly there’s a problem with lack of transparency
about what constitutes private and state sector companies, and
clearly there’s a big problem with forced technology transfer
which we regard as illegal.

All of those things need to be
dealt with, but we don’t think that ending up in a position of
blue-on-blue action against America’s allies is conducive to a
long-term settlement. So you know in the case of the United
Kingdom, we are only responsible for one percent of America’s
steel imports. Some of that is highly specialised steel that
can’t be bought anywhere else so now it has to be bought at 25%
more than it used to.

And of course we produce steel,
some specialist steel, directly for America’s national security
program. So to be penalised on the grounds of national security
when we’re supplying steel for national security does seem to be
well into the realms of the absurd.

Do you think Trump was right to say the EU should be seen
as a “foe” of the US?

If you look at the actual
numbers, the EU pays more in tariffs to the US than the US pays
in tariffs to Europe. And you know we have to understand that we
cannot all be in balance with one another all the time, and you
know, when you have a trade imbalance you need to ask questions
about your own domestic production.

If American consumers want to buy
BMWs and not GM cars the question should not be, how do you make
it more difficult for them to buy German cars, but how do you
improve the quality of American cars so that they want to buy
them. That’s what free trade is.

If we got to the point where, the UK got to the point
where it’s either extending Article 50 or leaving the EU without
a deal, what route do you think we should take?

Leave without a deal.

The public have told us, it
wasn’t a consultation, the public have told us to leave the
European Union, and the public already wonder why it’s going to
take more than four years after the referendum for us to fully
remove ourselves from the European Union.

To attempt to extend our
membership even longer, many voters would regard as a complete
betrayal by the political class, and I think they would be

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