Liam Fox falls short of calling for hard Brexit

Jake Cordell
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Liam Fox in front of £350m a week banner
Liam Fox has not yet said whether he wants to leave the Single Market (Source: Getty)

Liam Fox has been accused of overstepping his mark after failing to deliver any significant detail on what trading relationships the UK will pursue outside the European Union.

In a speech to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) today, the international trade secretary did not address the issue of whether the UK would seek to leave the Single Market - the so-called 'hard Brexit' option - saying only the government will not let the UK fall into a "legal vacuum".

Fox told the organisation, which today said growth in trade will fall to its slowest pace since the financial crisis: "The UK is a full and founding member of the WTO. The UK will continue to uphold these commitments when we leave the EU. There will be no legal vacuum, but this will not stop us pursuing a more liberalised trade agenda."

Read more: 12 charts which show how the first three months of Brexit have been in the financial markets

After laying the groundwork to signal an impending exit from the Single Market over the weekend, Remain campaigners said his failure to address the government's priorities was the latest sign of "total confusion", in the words of Labour's Chuka Umunna, in Whitehall over the UK's Brexit strategy.

"At a time when the business community needs clarity and stability, Liam Fox is saying one thing to the papers and another to our international allies," said Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

He added: "Not content with insulting British businesses, it seems he now wants to confuse them by sending mixed messages about our membership of the Single Market."

The Economists for Brexit group, however, said Fox's comments were a "first step" towards signalling the UK does want to leave the Single Market, which they view as "the optimal solution for the UK economy". Before the EU referendum forecasters generally agreed staying in the Single Market would deliver the least damage to the UK in the event of a vote to leave.

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