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Analysis

Fox is right: we’re better at the table than on the menu

by Hugo Dixon | 09.04.2019

The trade secretary rightly says a customs union would be the “worst of both worlds”. But Liam Fox draws the wrong conclusion. Instead of trying to forge an independent trade policy, we should stay in the EU.

Fox has quoted a famous Brussels saying: “If you are not at the table you are on the menu.” He has also pointed out the danger of being on the menu in the EU’s future trade talks. The other countries could sell access to our market to other countries without us having a say.

What this means is that the EU could, for example, do a deal with America opening up the NHS to competition from US healthcare companies. Or it could cut a deal with China which put our aerospace industry at an unfair competitive advantage.

Where Fox is wrong is in thinking we would fare much better if we go it alone. Although we are a big European economy, on the world stage we are medium sized. We do not have the clout to stand up to America or China in the increasingly brutal dog-eats-dog world of trade.

The Labour party‘s idea of joining a customs union with the EU and having a say over its future trade deals would solve the problem. The snag is it’s completely unrealistic to suppose that we could get a vote on the bloc’s trade if we are leaving the club.

This is why it is essential that the talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn over some compromise Brexit are not rushed. Anything they agree must first be tested with the other countries to make sure it is realistic. When MPs see what a customs union actually involves, many will pull back in horror.

This is all the more galling since the UK has been one of the most influential players in European trade over many years. Both the Conservative Leon Brittan and Labour’s Peter Mandelson were European trade commissioners. More recently, we have pushed hard for important trade deals with Canada and Japan.

Fox’s comments are the latest example of a hardline Brexiter inadvertently recognising how much power we currently have inside the EU. Jacob Rees-Mogg did something similar at the weekend when he suggested that we should be as awkward as possible if Brexit is delayed any longer. How could we be difficult if we are as powerless as he claims?
Rees-Mogg’s threat has now had the unfortunate consequence of making the other countries ask for assurances that we will not throw our weight around if Brexit is delayed. This could be a blow to our pride as well as the national interest – and rams home how many Brexiters are ideologues rather than true patriots.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “Fox is right: we’re better at the table than on the menu”

  • Our beloved ‘dr’ Fox has one thing on his mind and one thing only. Keeping his cushy job with all the perks and none of the worries of actually having to do anything.

    It is not beyond imagination that he could wind up as our NYC ‘Trade Guru’ in residence at the dept of trade’s multi M $ luxury apartment, although it would be beyond the pale.

    What JRM is threatening is just more of the same old, same old that the UK has been practising for the last 40 years. It is this objectionable behaviour that has got us into this mess we are in today.

    But, ha ha, he has given fair warning to the EU and it looks like they will create some sort of solution to curb the likes of Farage and his ilk. Can’t wait to see a Farage ‘slap down’ that takes the form of him losing his EU pension, for example.

    There is a very very simple solution to this problem and here it is:

    Withdraw A50, the quickest and least expensive way out of this mess we are in. How can conditions that exist in the UK right now be preferable to resuming our seat at the top table as a respected and honourable member of the world’s largest trade group? Don’t forget, we would not forfeit our right to decide to leave at a later date. When we have a plan and are better prepared, but not now.

    How can this solution be cast aside with such contempt? A 10 minute counting the ‘ayes’ and ‘Bob’s yer uncle’ smooth sailing again. Getting to work solving the real problems in the UK, not this endless brexit bullsh*t.

  • Absolutely spot on that Fox will lose his job if we stay part of the Customs Union. But to be fair to him, he has always been an enormous fan of close trade links with North America. He has alot of contacts there.
    What worries me, is what goes with it. Lower food safety standards which will mess up our own farmers exports to Europe, as well as our own health standards,
    and of course buying into and undermining our NHS.