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As reported earlier, Liam Fox’s speech on Brexit has been overshadowed by an intervention from Sir Martin Donnelly, who until last year was permanent secretary at the Fox’s own department for international trade. Donnelly told the Today programme this morning that leaving the customs union (the government’s policy) would be like “giving up a three-course meal, the depth and intensity of our trade relationship across the European Union and partners now, for the promise of a packet of crisps in the future” and that it would take a “fairy godmother” for the government to get what it thinks it will get from the Brexit talks with the EU. My colleague Jessica Elgot has all the details here.
First of all, it is unsurprising that those who have spent a lifetime working within the European Union would see moving away from the European Union as being threatening. The particular choice that I heard Sir Martin Donnelly outline was a choice between the European Union and trade opportunities elsewhere … I don’t believe that is the choice we face. We are already trying to seek a full and liberal partnership with the European Union, we are already having discussions about expanding our trade agreements beyond the EU and we are also talking about rolling over the EU agreements into EU law so that we can get no disruption in terms of market access at the point of access.
So it is not a choice of one or the other. And, in any case, I think the UK Brexit process is, as we have all discovered, a little more complex than a packet of Walkers.
It is not about sticking to the patterns of the past. I understand that those who have been professionally committed to those for many years would want to adhere to them.
Neither Sir Martin, with all due respect, nor anyone else has seen the full details of what was agreed at cabinet last week at Chequers. When the prime minister sets those out on Friday, I think he will find that what we need is a hard-headed leader, not a fairy godmother.
Q: [From the BBC’s John Pienaar] Martin Donnelly says you will need a fairy godmother to deliver the Brexit goals you want. Are you worried there are not enough true Brexit believers?
Fox repeats the point about Donnelly being someone who has spent all his career working within EU structures.