Liam Fox says delaying Brexit would be worse than leaving European Union without a deal

Posted On: 
23rd January 2019

Failing to quit the European Union in March would be "calamitous" and worse than a no-deal Brexit, Liam Fox has said.

Liam Fox in Downing Street last week ahead of a Cabinet meeting
PA Images

The International Trade Secretary said MPs needed to think of the “political consequences” of extending or revoking Article 50 alongside the short-term economic effects of crashing out of the bloc.

The warning came as MPs from across the House tabled a series of amendments aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit.

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Among those set to be voted on by MPs next Tuesday is Yvette Cooper’s, which plots a way to extend Article 50 if the Commons fails to back a deal by the end of February.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell last night said Labour was "highly likely" to support the amendment, dramatically increasing the chances of it being passed.

But speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Fox said attempts to delay Brexit provided cover for those who want to overturn the result of the 2016 referendum.

“I think the worst outcome in this political process would be for Parliament, having given a guarantee to the voters that they would honour the result of the referendum to turn around and break that contract with the voters,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

When pressed on whether this was less desirable than leaving the EU with no agreement he added: “I think you need to think about the political consequences as well as the short-term economic consequences.

“There’s no doubt that leaving with a deal and minimising disruption, both to the UK and our EU trading partners is in our best interests, but I think the most calamitous outcome would be for Parliament, having promised to respect the result of the referendum, to turn round and say that they wouldn’t.”

But former Chancellor George Osborne, who is also in Davos, said a delay to Brexit was now the "most likely" outcome of the current impasse.

Mr Osborne, who is now editor of the Evening Standard, called on Theresa May to stop playing "Russian roulette" with the economy and tell businesses that a no-deal Brexit will not happen.

"Well the gun is held to the British economy's head, if you like,” he told the BBC.

"You know, Russian roulette is a game which obviously you should never play in which there is a one in six chance that the bullet goes into your head.

"And if you start pretending that we might leave without a deal then that might become reality.