Liam Fox accuses former International Trade mandarin of being pro-EU in bitter Brexit row

Posted On: 
27th February 2018

Liam Fox has accused his department's former chief civil servant of pro-EU bias after he criticised the Government's approach to Brexit.

Liam Fox made the case for quitting the EU customs union today
PA Images

In an astonishing intervention, Sir Martin Donnelly, who was Permanent Secretary at the Department for International Trade, said quitting the single market and customs union in the hope of striking global free trade deals later was like “swapping a three-course meal for a packet of crisps”.

The former mandarin - who quit his job in March - also dismissed the Government’s assertion that it can secure all the benefits of its current trading arrangements with the EU during Brexit negotiations as “something for a fairy godmother”.

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Former top mandarin describes Brexit as ‘swapping a three-course meal for a packet of crisps’

Liam Fox warns joining a customs union with the EU would be ‘selling out’ Britain

But International Trade Secretary Dr Fox said the debate around the trading area was “more complex than a packet of Walkers”.

"It’s unsurprising that those who spent a lifetime working within the European Union would see moving away from the European Union as being threatening," he said.

He argued the premise of Sir Martin’s comments about a choice between between staying in the EU institutions and trade deals around the world was fundamentally flawed.

And he added: “In any case I think the UK Brexit process is - as we have all discovered - a little more complex than a packet of Walkers.”

In his speech Dr Fox had said staying in the customs union would be a "sell out" of the national interest, a "betrayal" of Leave voters and see the UK negotiating new deals "with one arm tied behind our back".

He also said it would leave the UK no choice but to sign up to controversial trade deals like TTip and reduce its ability to help developing countries build their way out of poverty.

His comments will be seen as a blast at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who yesterday committed to keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

But they will also be seen as a jibe to rebel Tory backbenchers who have launched a parliamentary bid for the same outcome.

In a separate aside, Dr Fox warned his Tory colleges their bid would would “remarkably hinder this country in terms of the future economic opportunities that might otherwise be available”.


Pro-EU campaigners attacked the speech as "waffle padded out by a defence of free trade".

Best for Britain CEO Eloise Todd said: "He runs a duff department and, frankly, no-one would trust him to open a packet of crisps let alone negotiate a complex trade deal."

And she added: "What took the biscuit was when he talked about 'multi country alliances of the like minded' and the EU-South Korea free trade arrangement and how it has been beneficial for Britain.

"He made a pretty strong case for staying in the EU."