LONDON/GENEVA (Reuters) – British trade minister Liam Fox said on Thursday a bespoke trade deal between Britain and the European Union should be “one of the easiest in human history” to reach – although his country could manage without one if necessary.
Sterling slipped back below $1.30 on concern about the Brexit talks coming to an end with no deal in place, something many economists have warned could cripple business activity.
Fox, a eurosceptic who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union, said a trade deal should be simple because the two sides already have similar regulatory rules and no tariffs.
“The only reason that we wouldn’t come to a free and open agreement is because politics gets in the way of economics,” he told the BBC in a radio interview.
But he added that Britain could “survive” without a deal, in comments that contrast sharply with the view of Chancellor Philip Hammond, who has said that no deal with the EU – the largest trading bloc in the world – would be a “very, very bad outcome.”
British and EU Brexit negotiators are due to say on Thursday how their first round of talks has gone.
Fox is later due to deliver a speech in Geneva in which he will urge new global trade liberalisation.
A draft text of his speech at the Graduate Institute showed Fox will call for a new round of global trade reforms to bring World Trade Organization rules up to date with the digital economy.
“While much political activity in Europe has been focussed on Brexit, it is essential that we don’t lose sight of the big picture, and the potential for all of us to benefit from another round of liberalisation under the WTO,” he says in the draft seen by Reuters.
He will also say Britain sees the agenda of global trade being shaped by the digital economy, trade promotion as the main tool of development, and trade in services.
Britain wants to see a “positive outcome” on the digital economy at the WTO’s two-yearly ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December, according to the draft.
Fox earlier told the BBC he expects Prime Minister Theresa May to remain in power for the rest of this parliament after losing her majority in last month’s election.
May’s control of her cabinet, which is divided over Brexit, has been severely weakened by the election result, reopening the debate about the nature of Britain’s EU exit.
There has also been speculation that she may not be able to serve out her full term in office, an idea Fox rejected.
“I think that the prime minister is likely to be there for the rest of this parliament. I think she has the support of her colleagues in the House of Commons. I think she has a mandate to be the prime minister,” Fox said.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill in LONDON and Tom Miles in GENEVA; Editing by Hugh Lawson