Brexiter Liam Fox backs Theresa May’s deal ahead of vote

MPs need to look beyond divisions and get on with delivering Brexit, says trade secretary

Britain’s trade secretary Liam Fox: “In politics we cannot always have the luxury of doing what we want for ourselves, but we have an abiding duty to do what is right for our country.” Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Britain’s trade secretary Liam Fox: “In politics we cannot always have the luxury of doing what we want for ourselves, but we have an abiding duty to do what is right for our country.” Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

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Liam Fox, one of the most senior Brexiters in the British cabinet, has issued a plea to other Eurosceptics to do “what is right for our country” and back prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement.

In a speech in Bristol, the trade secretary said that MPs needed to look beyond their current divisions and get on with delivering Brexit so that the UK’s “independent trading future” can begin.

Speaking at Portbury Royal Docks, the MP said the government’s plan would allow Britain to “maximise our access to the EU market” without damaging the potential to benefit from trade opportunities elsewhere.

“Even before we get to new trade opportunities afforded by new trade agreements there are still considerable export opportunities for British businesses to exploit in existing markets,” he said.

According to some estimates, Mrs May is facing a humiliating defeat on December 11th in the historic Brexit vote at the hands of up to 100 rebel Tory MPs.

In a message to fellow MPs, Mr Fox said: “In politics we cannot always have the luxury of doing what we want for ourselves, but we have an abiding duty to do what is right for our country.”

Mr Fox is one of a handful of leading Eurosceptics who have remained in Mrs May’s cabinet even as others have resigned: including Boris Johnson, David Davis and Dominic Raab.

Only a small group of Brexiter cabinet ministers are left to circle the wagons ahead of the crunch Brexit vote in December. They include Michael Gove, environment secretary, and Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, who will try to persuade Eurosceptic MPs that the contentious Irish “backstop” will not lead to the UK being tied to the EU forever.

Backtracking

Some senior figures are now suggesting that once the UK has left the EU it could backtrack on parts of the Brexit deal. Liz Truss, chief secretary to the treasury, said in an interview with the Daily Mail on Friday: “We can do what we want [after Brexit]. Some things are set in treaties but no parliament can bind its successor . . . we can renegotiate.”

Mr Fox told his Bristol audience that the government had had to make “tough choices” and it was the case that the withdrawal agreement and political declaration would not please everybody.

Earlier, speaking to the BBC Today programme, Mr Fox said that voting against the existing agreement would increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit.

“It is very difficult to get a deal that is going to appeal equally to those fervently in favour of leaving and those fervently in favour of remaining,” he said.

However, Mr Fox implied that a “no deal” outcome would not be a disaster as the government would take “mitigating” measures.

Asked in Bristol if he still believed Mrs May’s old mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, he said: “As Roberto Azevêdo, director-general of the World Trade Organization, said, it wouldn’t be a disaster, but it wouldn’t be a walk in the park either.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018

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