Liam Fox challenges Theresa May by insisting UK must be able to pull out of Irish backstop

Posted On: 
8th November 2018

Liam Fox has defied Theresa May by insisting that the UK must be able to unilaterally withdraw from any "backstop" deal to avoid a hard border after Brexit.

Liam Fox is a longstanding supporter of Brexit.
PA Images

The International Trade Secretary said the Government must not "sub-contract" the decision by giving the EU a say on when the arrangement comes to an end.

His comments came as detailed talks on how to maintain an open Irish border after Brexit continued between UK and European negotiators.

Ireland’s deputy PM urges caution amid Westminster talk of ‘imminent breakthrough’ on Brexit deal

Brexit deal edges closer as Cabinet ministers shown copies of draft withdrawal agreement

Pressure mounts on Theresa May as whole Cabinet demands to see Brexit legal advice

Under the Prime Minister's plan to avoid a hard border, the whole of the UK would stay in a customs arrangement with the EU until a future trade deal can be agreed. However, Brexiteers fear that could leave Britain tied to the bloc indefinitely.

To avoid that, Mrs May is hoping to agree a "review mechanism" with Brussels which would allow both sides to jointly decide when to bring the backstop to an end.

But speaking as he arrived at the Cabinet Office to read a copy of what has been agreed in the negotiatons so far, Dr Fox appeared to break ranks with Number 10.

He said: "We were given an instruction by the British people to leave the European Union, so there has to be a mechanism for the British government to ensure that that happens. That has to be a mechanism where, ultimately, that decision lies with the sovereign British government."

Dr Fox added: "That decision can’t be sub-contracted to somebody else."

Senior Whitehall sources said it was "likely" that an emergency Cabinet meeting will take place on Monday to sign off on the full deal.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told journalists in Paris he was "confident" the UK can secure a Brexit deal in "the next three weeks" but that an agreement in the next seven days was “pushing it”.

Irish deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney also played down suggestions that a breakthrough was imminent.

He said: "I would urge caution. An imminent breakthrough is not necessarily to be taken for granted, not by a long shot.

"Repeatedly people seem to make the same mistake over and over again, assuming that if the British Cabinet agrees something, then that is it, everything is agreed.

"This is a negotiation and needs to be an agreement, of course, between the British government, but also between the 27 countries and Michel Barnier and his negotiating team."