Liam Fox says people warning NHS will be sold off in Brexit trade deal with Trump are 'anti-trade'

liam fox mp

  • UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox tells Business Insider that fears of the NHS being sold off as part of any post-Brexit trade deal with the NHS are “myths”.
  • He accuses critics of a potential Trump trade deal “anti-capitalist” and “anti-trade.”
  • Fox says Britain should leave the EU without a Brexit deal rather than extend negotiations.
  • Read Business Insider’s full exclusive interview with Fox below.

SAN FRANCISCO & LONDON — Fears that the UK government will sell off parts of the National Health Service as part of any post-Brexit free trade deal are baseless “myths” that are being pushed by anti-capitalists in an attempt to scare the public, the International Trade Secretary has told Business Insider.

The prime minister Theresa May caused controversy earlier this year after refusing to rule out including the NHS in any free trade deal with the NHS.

However, ministers have since insisted that there will be no attempt to increase private ownership of elements of the health service as part of any Donald Trump trade deal. 

Speaking to Business Insider in San Francisco last week Liam Fox called the claims “the same old anti-trade rubbish.”

“[This is] the same old anti-trade rubbish that we got with the [proposed US-EU trade deal]  T-TIP,” Fox told BI.

“And however often, even including legislating, that we say to these groups, that this is not going to happen, they raise the same spectres, the same myths over and over again.

“Because the truth it’s not [EU-Canada trade deal] CETA or T-TIP that they’re against, it’s any trade deal. They are anti-trade, they are anti-capitalist groups.”

In a wide-ranging interview with BI, the International Trade Secretary also said that:

  • The EU needs to provide Britain with more guidance for what it wants from Brexit, or it will result in a no-deal situation.
  • The European Commission is putting “political ideology” ahead of  the “economic wellbeing of the people of Europe.”
  • If necessary, Britain should leave the European Union without a Brexit deal rather than extending Article 50, and to do otherwise would be a “complete betrayal.”
  • Concerns about the impact on the NHS by a UK-US trade deal are being pushed by “anti-capitalist” groups.

Fox also defended his previous remarks that a UK-EU trade deal post-Brexit should be the “easiest in human history,” arguing that it “should be an easy one,” but it’s the “political elements that are proving troublesome.”

After Business Insider published his warning against extending Brexit negotiations last week, Fox was hailed by backbench Tory MP and key Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said “extending article 50 is the definition of failure for the Government.” 

Stewart Jackson MP, who was the chief of staff to former Brexit Secretary David Davis, also backed Fox, saying that any attempt to extend Article 50 would lead to a leadership challenge against May.

You can read the full interview below. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

BUSINESS INSIDER: Earlier today Barnier said that the EU wasn’t willing to “delegate” its customs setup to the UK. Where does this leave Theresa May’s Chequers plan? Is it dead in the water?

LIAM FOX: No. So the EU then need to tell us how they intend to get the frictionless borders that we want to see. They can’t keep rejecting things without telling us exactly what it is they want.

So negotiations will continue, and we’ll want to know from them if they don’t want that as a proposal, what do they want, because if they keep saying no to everything they will end up with no deal.

And do you think that frictionless goods in terms of trade of goods is possible without having a traditional customs union? Because they seem to have implied it’s not.

Well it is possible. They simply don’t want to make this particular method work. So it’s clear that it is possible, but it requires political will to do so. The question will be whether the EU 27 leaders are willing to see the Commission’s political ideology put ahead of the economic wellbeing of the people of Europe.

What the Commission seem to be saying is look, there has to be Brexit on their terms, or no deal at all. Now, that may be in line with their own theological attachment to ever-closer union and EU treaties, but it may have a large cost to EU member states, the member states who require jobs, prosperity, and trade, because they need to get elected unlike the Commission officials.

theresa may liam foxYou say you need to have them come back and come up with another idea, but I guess their counter to that would be: It’s Britain who wants to leave, so the onus should be on us to find something that’s acceptable to them.

No, absolutely not. We have a legal right to leave under the Lisbon Treaty, and they have a legal duty to help us look at the relationship afterwards.

So this idea that Britain’s doing something outlandish, not only was it our legal right it was a right underwritten by the other 27 in the Lisbon Treaty.

What would your message be for the Brits who are understandably concerned about some of the headlines they’re seeing about the government stockpiling medicine or food in case of a no-deal?

Well, first of all I’d tell them not to listen to the hysteria from some of our press.

But we are making clear to the European Union that we are making preparations for no-deal otherwise no-deal does not become a legitimate negotiating or credible negotiating position.

Are you willing to rule out opening up the NHS to further competition as part of the terms of a trade deal with the US?

Well we’ve made clear our general approach to these things, and you can see it most clearly in the CETA agreement between the EU and Canada, which we said will be the basis for a bilateral agreement afterwards.

And if you look at Chapters 23 and 24 of CETA it makes it quite clear governments cannot water down either their environmental or labour legislation simply to improve trade, nor does it in any way limit the government’s ability to regulate their public services. In fact in specifically reserves the right to, for governments to regulate their own public services including the National Health Service.

So again we’re getting the same old anti-trade rubbish that we got with T-TIP. And however often, even including legislating, that we say to these groups, that this is not going to happen, they raise the same specters, the same myths over and over again.

To attempt to extend our membership even longer, many voters would regard as a complete betrayal by the political class, and I think they would be right.

Because the truth it’s not CETA or T-TIP that they’re against, it’s any trade deal. They are anti-trade, they are anti-capitalist groups.

In the conversations you’re having with the US, what are the sort of things the White House is saying that it wants to prioritise in a trade deal with the UK?

We’re not at the point of being able to negotiate of course, but we are setting out the sort of options that we might have. We don’t know what position will be that we will end up with the European Union, therefore it’s not entirely clear to anyone that we would be negotiating with what is on the table.

But even if you looked at the deal that we suggested to the European Union, then we would still have complete control over tariffs and quotas for example, including in manufacturing goods, including in agricultural goods, so it does give us quite a scope.

There will be those who say well you need to be able to move away from EU rules on agricultural goods, or sanitary and phytosanitary regulations for example, but even if we weren’t under a legal obligation to maintain those there’s still a very strong political pressure to maintain those animal welfare rules and consumer quality of goods.

So we first of all have to get a deal with the European Union that gives us enough access to the European market to be able to continue business as it is, and secondly, without tying our hands in a broader sense, and secondly when it comes to these other trade agreements, it’s being able to give adequate protection to producers but also adequate confidence to consumers.

Liam FoxAt last year’s Conservative Party conference, you said you’d have 40 trade deals signed the minute after Brexit. Is that still your commitment?

These are agreements we already have, that we want to roll over into UK law, and we haven’t had any, we haven’t had any views expressed to us by any of those countries that they don’t want to continue.

I mean clearly as a lot of them, all of them in fact, are smaller economies than the UK, they want a continued access to the world’s fifth-biggest economy. There are some technical issues about dis-aggregation of quotas but they are all being fully discussed at the moment and again if we don’t get that rollover it means those countries don’t get access to the UK.

So you haven’t heard people say they don’t want to continue. Have you had, or how many of them have you had expressly, positively said— [cross-talk]

Oh we’ve spoken to all of them.

And they’ve all been positive?

And they’re all positive. They all want to at least be in discussion about the details. So there’s no-one who’s said that we’re not interested.

And you said striking a free-trade agreement [with the EU] would be one of the easiest in human history in terms of deals. Do you still stand by that?

No no, what I said was, in trade terms the EU should be an easy one. But it’s never been the trade elements that are difficult in the EU it’s the political elements.

What I was saying was, if you start an agreement where you already have 100% identity of regulations and laws then that should be technically easy. But of course it’s not the trade that’s the difficult part, as we’ve discovered today, it’s the political elements that get in the way.

And the ultimate question is, you know, it can be as easy or as difficult as our trading partners want to make it, and there will be a very high price to pay, as I’ve said before, in a number of European countries, particularly countries like Ireland and the Netherlands and Belgium, if we don’t get an agreement.

Where do Trump’s recent comments about Theresa May’s plans for Brexit leave hopes of a deal between the UK and the US?

Well, the President at his press conference with the Prime Minister made it very clear that he wants to get a trade agreement, and I had very interesting discussions in the last few days with Ambassador Lighthizer and Wilbur Ross and others about how we take forward the working groups that are already in existence.

So it’s a matter of trying to keep that work going, at the same time launching our public consultations which we need to do to be ready on time. As you know, we’ve launched four of those to ask the public what their level of ambition, what the level of ambition ought to be on each of those potential agreements, and that’s United States, Australia, New Zealand, and potential membership of TPP.

trump mayAnd are you disappointed with Trump’s trade actions with regards to China?

Well there are two different elements there. There is the 301 dispute with China and then there’s the 232 on steel and aluminium tariffs. We don’t disagree with the analysis of the problem.

Clearly there’s been a big problem with the dumping of Chinese steel, clearly there’s a problem with lack of access to the Chinese markets, particularly in service, clearly there’s a problem with lack of transparency about what constitutes private and state sector companies, and clearly there’s a big problem with forced technology transfer which we regard as illegal.

All of those things need to be dealt with, but we don’t think that ending up in a position of blue-on-blue action against America’s allies is conducive to a long-term settlement. So you know in the case of the United Kingdom, we are only responsible for one percent of America’s steel imports. Some of that is highly specialised steel that can’t be bought anywhere else so now it has to be bought at 25% more than it used to.

And of course we produce steel, some specialist steel, directly for America’s national security program. So to be penalised on the grounds of national security when we’re supplying steel for national security does seem to be well into the realms of the absurd.

Do you think Trump was right to say the EU should be seen as a “foe” of the US?

If you look at the actual numbers, the EU pays more in tariffs to the US than the US pays in tariffs to Europe. And you know we have to understand that we cannot all be in balance with one another all the time, and you know, when you have a trade imbalance you need to ask questions about your own domestic production.

If American consumers want to buy BMWs and not GM cars the question should not be, how do you make it more difficult for them to buy German cars, but how do you improve the quality of American cars so that they want to buy them. That’s what free trade is.

If we got to the point where, the UK got to the point where it’s either extending Article 50 or leaving the EU without a deal, what route do you think we should take?

Leave without a deal.

The public have told us, it wasn’t a consultation, the public have told us to leave the European Union, and the public already wonder why it’s going to take more than four years after the referendum for us to fully remove ourselves from the European Union.

To attempt to extend our membership even longer, many voters would regard as a complete betrayal by the political class, and I think they would be right.

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Read the full article from it’s original source: http://uk.businessinsider.com/liam-fox-international-trade-secretary-interview-nhs-trade-deal-brexit-trump-no-deal-2018-7

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