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Boris Johnson backs Tory Brexiteer Liam Fox to lead World Trade Organisation

The former trade secretary said he wanted to ‘ensure that global trade works for everyone’. (PA)

4 min read

Boris Johnson will nominate pro-Brexit former Cabinet minister Liam Fox to head up the World Trade Organisation, Number 10 has confirmed.

The Prime Minister said Dr Fox, who served as Theresa May’s international trade secretary, could bring the heft to the director general job to “ensure the global trading system truly delivers for all WTO members”.

Dr Fox is aiming to replace outgoing WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo at the organisation which operates the world’s system of trade rules.

Confirming the nomination — which had also been pitched for by New Labour grandee Lord Mandelson — Mr Johnson said: “As the world seeks to recover from the shared challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of free and fair trade has never been more crucial.”

The PM added: “Dr Fox is a passionate advocate of multilateralism, who brings detailed knowledge of the global trading system from his years as a UK Cabinet Minister and Secretary of State for International Trade. 

“He has first-hand experience of the political and technical challenges of negotiating trade agreements, and the reforms that are needed to ensure the global trading system truly delivers for all WTO members.” 

But Labour accused the Government of putting forward a candidate "that the international community will immediately discount".

Dr Fox served as trade secretary during Mrs May’s time at Number 10, setting up the department which is currently run by Liz Truss.

Ms Truss said of the nominee: “The new WTO Director General needs to be a fierce champion of free and fair trade, an advocate of multilateralism, and be able to get things done and increase the pace of reform. Dr Liam Fox brings all those things to the table. 
“He has experience making tough political decisions as a former UK Trade Secretary, is committed to the fundamental principle of free and fair trade and has excellent relationships with WTO members around the world. He is the ideal candidate to lead the WTO into a new era and help push forward much-needed modernisation of the organisation.”

Dr Fox, a staunch advocate of the UK-US relationship and a prominent Tory critic of the European Union, was forced to step down as defence secretary David Cameron’s coalition government in the early 2010s amid scrutiny over his relationship with a lobbyist.


Setting out his stall as the nomination was confirmed, the Conservative MP for North Somerset and former Tory leadership contender said: “I believe that if we want to keep the WTO relevant and vibrant our task is clear: Update. Strengthen and Reform. We must ensure that global trade works for everyone.”

He added: “Trade is a way in which we spread prosperity more widely. That prosperity underpins social cohesion, that social cohesion in turns underpins political stability and that political stability is the building block of our collective security.”
Number 10 said that Dr Fox, whose pro-Brexit credentials could make him a hard sell with some European nations when voting begins later this year, was a “strong candidate” for the job.

“He has a detailed knowledge of the global trade system,” the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said. 

Dr Fox’s bid will, they added, be “supported by a cross-government team”.

But Labour’s Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry said: "It seems extraordinary that Boris Johnson is prepared to tell his international counterparts that the man he decided a year ago was not good enough to lead Britain’s trade policy is now the best candidate he can think of to lead the World's. 
"For a job of this importance, at this crucial time for the world and British economy, with the threat of further tariff wars exacerbating a global recession, it is also hugely disappointing that the UK is submitting a candidate that the international community will immediately discount.”

The opposition frontbencher added: "There will be little trust in somebody who promised so much in regards to Britain's future trade yet delivered so little and was the architect of a Trade Bill that threatens to jeopardise our farming standards our public services, and a UK Trade Remedies Authority that gives no voice to business or workers. That is not the man we need in charge of global trade."

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