The UK could retain access to specific areas of the European Union’s customs union after Brexit, according to the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox.
Speaking to the Andrew Marr Show, Fox suggested that the UK could follow a similar arrangement to Turkey, which broadly allows the country to engage in forms of free trade with non-EU states whilst taking advantage of tariff-free access to particular sectors within the EU.
Fox, a prominent Leave campaigner, called for the UK to leave the customs union back in July but told Andrew Marr that some form of continuation might be considered for the transitional period, between the UK’s exit in 2019 and the start of a new trade deal with Europe.
He did admit that a deal retaining some degree of customs union access would result in "limitations on what we could do on tariff settings" and added “what we need to do before we make final decisions is to look at the costs”.
Fox also criticised the black and white characterisation of Britain’s post-Brexit arrangements with the EU. “It’s not binary. I hear people talking about hard Brexit and soft Brexit as though it’s a boiled egg we’re talking about. It’s a little more complex.”
The Conservative party is divided over whether the Government’s negotiation team should try to prioritise access to the single market or customs union, or achieve a “clean break” and seek trade deals elsewhere.
George Osborne also made an appearance on Andrew Marr yesterday morning. The former Chancellor warned that ending tariff free access to markets such as those in Germany and France may not be worth the benefits of mooted deals with non-EU states after Brexit.
He told Andrew Marr: "You can't say we are beacon of free trade in the world and the main thing you achieve is a huge act of protectionism, the biggest in British history. We can't tow ourselves out into the middle of the Atlantic - we have to make this relationship work". Osborne also added that the Remain campaign he supported "lacked optimism and authenticity", and its focus on the economy alienated voters that might otherwise have backed continuing EU membership.
The Department for International Trade was established shortly after Theresa May became Prime Minister but the UK is unable to sign any new free trade deals with non-EU states while the country remains a member of the EU. Formal negotiations over a future trading relationship with the EU are expected to begin after Article 50 is triggered in March next year.