Fox finally gets it: WTO is in ‘existential crisis’

by Luke Lythgoe | 14.06.2019

Arch-Brexiter Liam Fox appears to be on a journey. Every so often, the trade secretary picks out one of the many gaping holes in the Brexit project. All he needs to do now is make that final leap and condemn the whole thing.

Take the time he pointed out that, when it comes to cutting deals with the EU, “if you are not at the table you are on the menu”. Or when he backed Jeremy Hunt in the Tory leadership race last week, arguing that a no-deal Brexit – which the foreign secretary has warned against – might be “used by those who seek to break up the UK” in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Fox’s latest revelation takes a hammer to one of the worst bits of Brexiter dogma: that leaving without a deal will be absolutely fine because we can fall back on World Trade Organisation rules.

The trade secretary has issued a strong warning about the problems facing the global trading system. “The WTO now faces one of the biggest tests since its establishment and, with all its functions under strain, it could become an existential crisis.”

July 20th
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Fox’s solution, however, is a rather confused. He demands “urgent and drastic action” from the leaders of G20 countries. But of course it is divisions and aggression from within the G20 that is doing the damage. The US and China are locked in a trade war. Populist nationalists have taken power from Italy to Brazil. Donald Trump is starving the WTO’s dispute resolution body of personnel.

Clearly exasperated, free-trade fanatic Fox goes on to attack the G20 group of leading nations: “If we do not identify the real threats to global prosperity and security and deal with them effectively, then who could blame our citizens for asking – what is the G20 for?”

So what does he want? Quit the EU, abandon the G20 and give up any hope for the WTO? Then rely on a world where might is right and the biggest powers boss around the smaller ones? We’d end up being bullied not just by Trump and China but even by the EU.

Staying in the EU is the obvious answer to Fox’s fears. We would be at the top table, poring over a menu of favourable free trade deals with other countries. And we would stay a strong Union of four nations. We would be part of one of the world’s biggest gangs. So Trump and China’s Xi Jinping wouldn’t be able to bully us. They would have to pay more attention to our values of tolerance and openness – shared values we can push in lockstep with 27 European allies.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

8 Responses to “Fox finally gets it: WTO is in ‘existential crisis’”

  • It is frightening the degree of incompetence of a number of senior ministers in recent times. I cannot believe it was always like this. How do these people get to these positions ? And was it not David Davies who was making the same mistakes re the WTO on a programme with a previous Head of the WTO organisation Pascal Lamy who literally threw up his hands in horror at the erroneous statements being made by DD about the WTO ? What is extraordinary is that these incompetent ministers seem to get away with their stupidity and are not held responsible for the statements they make.

    In any other job they would have been fired long ago.

  • My god. Lamy is so biased through his past and present job’s and connections, that he cannot be taken seriously on anything regarding brexit.

    And here you using him as an argument. There are none so blind, as those that will not see.

  • @David Quinn

    David Davis is certainly a moronic arsonist of his own, but it was the criminally inbred liar Ian Duncan Smith who exasperated Pascal Lamy about his references to art 24 of WTO to solve the UK-EU border issue in Ireland (ie: countries in discussion to form a custom union can ask other WTO members to consider their trade schedules “as if” they were already the same, pending final ratificaton), none of this apply to either the Withdrawal Agreement or a no-deal Brexit.


  • The problem is that ministers (and politicians in general) are interested only in their own careers and financial advancement. It was ever thus, but in the past, the actual nuts and bolts of government have been left to competent civil servants who now find themselves ignored by these same ministers because Brexit has become holy writ and these individuals are terrified of offending the Brexit-voting public and are prepared to throw the country into the abyss if it preserves their positions. Their self-interest, cynicism, and total incompetence beggars belief. May said she wanted to unite the country – fat chance. The UK is broken and it will take more than a generation to repair it – if ever. I’m sure that no-deal will result in Scottish independence ( and eventual membership of the EU), probable union between NI and the Republic and possibly even Wales (that voted to remain, mind you) seeking some sort of exit from the sinking ship. In the meantime, unless all others vote for someone else, it looks like Boris is on course to be the next PM. The rest of the world must be aghast – has Britain gone mad ?

  • Maybe all the contenders at one of these t.v. debates should be asked:
    “Do you agree with the Secretary of State for International Trade that the WTO may soon face an existential crisis, all of its functions now being under strain?” “If you disagree, what is the Secretary of State’s mistake?”. “And if you agree, do you consider the UK to be well-placed to ensure the urgent and drastic action needed from the leaders of G20 countries to avert the crisis?”

  • In reply to Johns question “has Britain gone mad” , Im sorry to say Yes , it has, in my sixty plus years I cannot think of a more incompetent bunch of down right liars and con men (and women) who have brainwashed those who are gullible enough to be conned ,into this insanity that is Brexit!

  • The British public in general know nothing about the WTO. As is pointed out above the BBC allows Duncan Smith the platform to spread misinformation about trading under is rules. No one challenges him and the mythology becomes fact.
    But people’s knowledge about the EU is also woefully poor and the things they think they know have emanated from the lies of Johnson, Gove, Reed Mogg and the rest of the Tory nutcases. I was recently told by a leaver that the EU was funded entirely by the U.K. government and all the other countries in the EU paid nothing. This person was thus a hardline leaver and also wanted all overseas aid stopped so that the money could be ‘spent on our own’. The levels of ignorance are frightening but say it aloud in public and you are labelled a patronising snob and accused of dividing the nation. When we first joined the EEC in 1973 schools were sent free teaching materials explaining how Brussels worked, the elections, the funding and the work of its institutions. I taught it to kids with enthusiasm. The origins of the European project was taught and the terms of the Treaty of Rome. My kids knew about the single market etc. After this, however, the Government made no effort to encourage basic political education about the EU in schools and we are now reaping the consequences of rank ignorance. Although belatedly we should now be making a real effort to disseminate the advantages of being in the EU and debunking the myths in plain, simple English.

  • Yes, and the very worst of them looks like becoming PM. Hopefully only for a very short time.
    Regarding Democracy, the quote “You don’t know what you have ’til it’s gone” seems very apt. Perhaps we shall take better care of it next time, Post-Boris.