Split emerges between Theresa May and Liam Fox over post-Brexit customs union with EU
Theresa May and Liam Fox have clashed over whether the UK should stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
The Prime Minister argued business could still be done with non-EU nations even if Britain agrees some kind of free trade deal with the bloc.
But apparently contradicting his boss, Dr Fox said the UK must break ties with Brussels in order to fully exploit opportunity with other nations around the world.
Mrs May said the £9bn of deals struck during her three-day trip to China showed there was more trade to be done “without doing a free trade agreement”.
Speaking to Sky News, she said: “Therefore we can stay very closely aligned with the EU, and a customs union too.”
The Prime Minister added: "What I want to do is ensure that we have got the best possible trade arrangements with China and with other countries around the world once we have left the European Union.
"I do want to do those free trade agreements. There is more trade that we can do even before we get to those free trade agreements."
But Dr Fox – who is travelling with Mrs May – told Bloomberg TV: "It is very difficult to see how being in a customs union is compatible with having an independent trade policy…
"Because we would therefore be dependent on what the EU negotiated in terms of its trading policies and we'd be following behind that."
A Downing Street spokesman insisted Dr Fox was speaking on behalf of the Government when he made his comments.
Ahead of her trip to China Mrs May made clear she was seeking a free trade deal with the country after Brexit.
Remaining in the EU customs union is thought of as the simplest way to iron out concerns about keeping the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland open after the UK quits the bloc.
But ardent Brexit supporters who want to cut all ties with the EU so the UK can go it alone would be enraged at the prospect of continued membership of one of the key trading areas.