Liam Fox: We have turned down free trade deals because we do not have capacity
The UK has turned down countries wishing to strike free trade deals after Brexit because the Government does not have the capacity to negotiate them, the International Trade Secretary has said.
Liam Fox said that instead, the Government is preparing to duplicate deals which already exist until they can be updated at a later date.
“There are a number of countries who said they would like to move directly to a new free-trade agreement but we have said we are simply unable to do that at the moment,” Dr Fox told Politico.
“It requires the willingness of the country involved to want to move the process further on and it’s dependent on our own capacity in our own department.”
The comments come after the Prime Minister said ministers were looking at simply copy and pasting the deals that the UK is currently signed up to as an EU member.
“The EU has got some 40 free-trade agreements with third countries," said the Prime Minister. “We have always said that our aim is twofold — first of all, to provide continuity as we leave the EU but then to move to more bespoke and more liberal agreements when we are able to do so.”
A senior Government figure also told The Guardian: “We can’t do 40 FTAs, we haven’t got the capacity to do that.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable described Dr Fox's admission as “yet another broken Brexit promise".
“First we learned that countries such as Japan and India have no interest in doing separate trade deals with the UK. Now we learn that even if there was appetite for such deals, we wouldn’t have the capacity to negotiate them.
“The Government is clearly completely underprepared and is presiding over a Whitehall farce. This is like a nightmare divorce, where one partner decides to walk away with no idea of what they will move on to.”
‘NO CLEAR VISION’
Elsewhere, the City of London’s special representative to the EU raised concerns about European countries wanting to trade with the UK following Brexit.
Former Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne warned the EU does not have a “clear vision” of what it wants following UK withdrawal from the bloc, even though Britain with be one of their “most important trading partners”.
“There is a tendency in the EU still to see the UK as primarily an internal disciplinary matter rather than an external relationship building issue,” the Liberal Democrat former MP.
“Brexit is not really about the UK in some ways,” he said. “It has also become a prism through which the 27 see themselves. So France, for instance, sees it as an opportunity to reshape the bloc in a manner that suits its interest.”
Mr Browne also said, despite the Government’s hopes German manufacturers would force access to the UK market, he was not convinced.
“German manufacturers are very concerned about the political integrity of the EU,” he said. “Of course they want to trade with the UK, but if it is a choice between that and the risk of weakening the single market, preserving the latter is more important to them.”