Nick Clegg: Liam Fox will quit 'in a huff' within 18 months
Liam Fox will quit the Cabinet "in a huff" within 18 months in protest at Theresa May's attempts to get Britain out of the EU, Nick Clegg has predicted.
The former Deputy Prime Minister said he would bet "a fair amount of money" on the International Trade Secretary resigning his post in order to join his fellow Brexiteers on the backbenches.
Mr Clegg said Dr Fox - who only re-joined the Cabinet after five years in the political wilderness when Mrs May entered Downing Street - would quickly realise that he "doesn't have a job" because Britain is still a member of the tariff-free EU customs union.
Speaking at a lunch in Westminster, former Lib Dem leader and arch-Europhile Mr Clegg said: "I do feel sorry for Liam in particular. I'm not a betting man, but if I was I would put a fair amount of money that Liam Fox will resign in a huff within the next 18 months.
"He doesn't have a job and he doesn't appear to have realised that yet. If the United Kingdom doesn't leave the customs union, which apparently is still an open question in Whitehall, then he is heading a department without purpose because he cannot negotiate all these fantastic trade deals with Papua New Guinea and Tanzania and China and India and Australia.
"There's only 15% of British trade goes to countries which are outside the European Union or with which we don't have a European trade deal or in the process of having a European trade deal. So this idea that there is these Elysian Fields of unbridled 19th century trade waiting for us, where apparently everyone will give us exactly what we want even though we'll be a fraction of the size of what we were when we were negotiating partners of the EU, it's a nonsense.
"The poor chap - if they decide not to quit the customs union, it really will be a little embarrassing because his department will have nothing to do. Even if they decide to quit the customs union he still doesn't have anything to do."
Mr Clegg added: "He's a proud man and at the same time he'll have a lot of his colleagues on the Conservative backbenches will start developing this betrayal myth - it will always be someone else's fault that Brexit hasn't happened by next Tuesday.
"It will be the civil servants, it will be the foreigners or it will be the City. A cast of characters will be blamed and they will get increasingly agitated and at one point Liam Fox will have to ask himself 'am I going to sit here and become an increasingly laughing stock because I've got nothing to do, or do I join my spiritual fellow travellers - the angry brigade on the right wing and say I was also betrayed'.
"He will do that and I put a fair amount of money that he will do that within the next 18 to 24 months."
Dr Fox resigned as Defence Secretary in 2011 over his working relationship with friend and self-styled adviser Adam Werritty. In his resignation letter, he said he had allowed his personal and professional responsibilities to be "blurred".
He has already been slapped down by Theresa May for saying British business was "fat and lazy" at a Tory dinner last week.
Meanwhile, Mr Clegg also predicted that Britain could have a government of national unity within five years as voters lose faith in politicians' ability to solve the country's problems.
He said: "It's so misshapen and unnatural to have our country run from one parliament to the next by a party which only needs to cater to about a quarter of the people that it purports to represent.
"I think something will give. I think Theresa May is sitting on a ticking time bomb which will paralyse this government when it comes to making those vital choices about Brexit. And who knows? At that point you might have quite a lot of people in the country at large who are sick to death of politics who say 'please, can someone put the country first?'
"And if that means parties working together again, if that means maybe in the next half a decade or so a government of national unity trying to pull us out of the dead end into which the Conservative Party is steering us, who knows?
"I think the present settlement is a staging post, it's not the final settlement."