Liam Fox has said the United Kingdom could “survive” without a new free trade deal with the European Union after Brexit.
The international trade secretary today claimed a deal with Brussels would be “one of the easiest in human history” to achieve, but suggested he did not believe it to be vital.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has said failing the secure a deal would be “a very, very bad outcome”.
Fox, one of the leading Brexiteers in Cabinet, also admitted a transition phase agreement could be needed as the UK exited the EU.
Amid Tory party infighting, Fox told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme he “wouldn’t predict anything in the future” when asked if he would still have his job in a years time.
And while he gave his support to Theresa May, he would only say it was “likely” that she would remain prime minister until the end of the parliament.
Speaking to Today, Fox said: “We don’t want to have no deal, it is much better that we have a deal than no deal.
“We can of course survive with no deal and we have to go into a negotiation with those on the other side knowing that that’s what we think.”
Without a deal, the UK would have to operate under World Trade Organisation rules and risks having tariffs slapped on imports and exports.
Fox 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 are already beginning with zero tariffs and we are already beginning at the point of maximal regulatory equivalence as it is called, in other words our rules and our laws are exactly the same.
“The only reason that we wouldn’t come to a free and open agreement is because politics gets in the way of economics.”
Asked whether there would need to be a transition deal with the EU to prevent the UK falling off a so-called economic cliff edge when it leaves, Fox added: “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.
“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.”
His comments come as David Davis returns to Brussels to meet European Commission chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and concludefour days of talks.
This round of negotiations have focused on issues including a financial settlement, citizens’ rights, the Irish border and Britain’s position in relation to Europe’s civil nuclear regulator, Euratom.
Fox is using a visit to Switzerland to urge a rejection of post-Brexit protectionism, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is in Japan for trade talks.