LONDON • UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox took a tough line with the European Union (EU) just as his prime minister is engaging in high-stakes diplomacy to reach a breakthrough in Brexit talks.
In a reminder of the complex political backdrop Theresa May faces at home, the veteran Brexit backer said the UK has done enough to satisfy the bloc’s demands for money and it’s time to move talks on to trade.
Britain is “not afraid” of talks breaking down and falling back on World Trade Organisation terms, Fox said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Sydney yesterday.
“We believe that we’ve gone far enough to be able to get into this second stage. Remember, we’re almost getting into 2018 and we’re leaving in March 2019. So we need to make progress now because time is getting short.”
The EU has set Britain a Dec 4 deadline to improve its offer on the Brexit divorce settlement and also come up with a solution to the thorny question of the Irish border — the new frontier between the UK and the EU that will cut the island of Ireland in two.
Fox is striking a combative tone that is in contrast to May, who has been speaking in recent days of the need for both sides to “step forward together”.
Fox said the whole of the UK will be leaving both the EU single market and customs union, in a rebuff to the EU’s proposals.
“We are leaving the customs union and the single market, and that’s the whole of the UK, not a part of it,” Fox said. “We cannot see a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Our border lies around the UK, not across the UK, and that’s a reality that will have to be dealt with.”
Fox also had some divisive words for those in the UK who continue to oppose Brexit, some of whom are in his party: “I’m afraid there are a small hard core out there who sadly prefer to see Britain fail than see Brexit succeed just to prove that they were right. I find that unpatriotic and un- British.”