Cabinet minister Liam Fox has declared that the UK should not be involved in any form of customs union with the EU if it wants to maintain an “independent” trade policy after Brexit.
In potentially incendiary remarks, the International Trade Secretary told Bloomberg TV that it was “very difficult” to see how any model that replicated current arrangements would free Britain from Brussels’s own priorities on trade.
Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond have consistently left open the option of joining ‘a customs union’ once the UK finally severs ties with the EU.
But on a trip to China with the PM, Fox underlined his hardline Eurosceptic credentials by making clear he didn’t want any policy that shackled Britain from striking new trade deals with rapidly growing parts of the global economy.
“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 depending on what the European Union negotiated in terms of its trading policies and we ’d be following behind that,” he said.
“We have to be outside of that to take advantage of growing markets. One of the reasons we are leaving the EU is to take control - and that’s not possible with a common external tariff.”
Until now, Fox has joined other Cabinet ministers in refusing to rule out ‘a’ customs union, although all have said the UK will be leaving ‘the’ customs union after a two-year transition period following Brexit.
His tone contrasts with a new Financial Times report which suggests the UK was looking at a plan to opt out of a customs union for goods but replicate one for key services to protect the City of London and the financial industry.