UK international trade secretary Liam Fox has said that the UK can “survive” without securing a free trade deal with the EU.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Thursday, Mr Fox said: “We don’t want to have no deal, it is much better that we have a deal than no deal.”
But he added: “We can of course survive with no deal, we have to go into a negotiation with those on the other side of the table knowing what we think.”
Mr Fox’s comments are in contrast to UK chancellor Philip Hammond, who recently said that failure to secure a post-Brexit trade deal would be a “very, very bad outcome” for the UK.
Mr Fox said on Thursday: “Of course we want to come to a full and comprehensive deal with the European Union. Why? Because it is good for the people of Britain and it’s good for our economy, it’s good for the consumers and the workers of Europe and their economy.”
He added: “If you think about it the free trade agreement that we will have to come to with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.
“We’re already beginning with zero tariffs and maximum regulatory equivalence. The only reason we wouldn’t come to a deal is if politics gets in the way of economics.”
Thursday’s comments are not the first time Mr Fox has appeared at odds with Mr Hammond. Many in Westminster believe the two ministers disagree over several aspects of Brexit, including the length of any transition period, and the question of whether the UK should remain part of the customs union.
Mr Fox appeared to allude to some of those differences on Thursday when he said the UK needed to secure an “implementation phase” after leaving the EU.
The phrase is often used by Mr Fox and his allies to refer to a transition period lasting a few months, rather than the chancellor’s preference of a longer period lasting at least two years .
“If we are to have an implementation phase between leaving the European Union and our final settlement, I don’t have a problem with that,” Mr Fox said. “But I do think we have to leave the European Union first of all to keep faith with the voters who instructed us to do that.”
Mr Fox was speaking from Geneva, where is meeting Roberto Azevedo, director-general of the World Trade Organisation, to discuss the UK’s post-Brexit arrangements. He is also expected to make a speech on Thursday calling for a rejection of protectionism.
He said that the UK would use its seat on the WTO to “shape the debate” after Brexit, adding that the current debate around free-trade agreements “is too narrow and we need to think about new ways of getting the global economy moving”.