Britain cannot be involved in any customs union with EU post-Brexit - Fox

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said that Britain cannot be involved in any customs union with the EU following Brexit.

His comments came as Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that it was not necessary to choose between the alternatives of frictionless trade with Europe and the ability to strike new deals elsewhere in the world.

And she appeared to leave the door open to some form of customs agreement when pressed on the issue during her visit to China.

Asked on Sky News whether the £9 billion of deals struck during the three-day trip showed it was possible to stay closely aligned with the EU and its customs union while still increasing trade with countries like China, the PM replied: "What I want to do is ensure that we have got the best possible trade arrangements with China and with other countries around the world once we have left the European Union. I do want to do those free trade agreements."

Prime Minister Theresa May has been on a three-day visit to China (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Theresa May has been on a three-day visit to China (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Downing Street has rejected a report in the Financial Times that ministers are privately considering a customs union arrangement for post-Brexit trade in goods in order to avoid disruption to exports - something which Brexiteers believe would hamstring efforts to strike free trade agreements with global giants such as the US and China.

Speaking in Shanghai on the last day of her China trip, Mrs May suggested that it would not be necessary to choose between the two, telling the BBC: "I don't believe that those are the alternatives.

"What the British people voted for is for us to take back control of our money, our borders and our laws and that's exactly what we are going to do.

"We also want to ensure that we can trade across borders."

Mrs May has repeatedly said that Brexit will mean leaving the existing EU single market and customs union arrangements. The customs union currently frees members from tariffs when trading with one another but requires them to observe a common external tariff regime and not to strike deals with third countries.

In an interview in Shanghai with Bloomberg TV, Dr Fox indicated that the UK was also ruling out entering into any other customs union arrangement with the remaining EU27.

"It is very difficult to see how being in a customs union is compatible with having an independent trade policy because we would therefore be dependent on what the EU negotiated in terms of its trading policies and we'd be following behind that," Dr Fox said.

"We have to be outside of that to take advantage of those growing markets.

"One of the reasons we are leaving the European Union is to take control and that's not possible with a common external tariff."

The Prime Minister said her goal in upcoming talks on the future relationship with Europe was "an arrangement for trading with the EU which is going to be good for trade between the UK and EU and good for jobs in Britain".

The Prime Minister was welcomed to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing for a tea ceremony with President Xi #PMinChinapic.twitter.com/8v6SuRv2HD

-- UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov) February 1, 2018

She told the BBC: "It means a free trade agreement with the EU. We are now starting to negotiate that free trade agreement with the EU. We want that to enable trade to take place on as frictionless and tariff free a basis as possible across our borders, but we also want to be signing trade deals in the rest of the world, like here in China."

Mrs May said her visit was a demonstration of the Government's "global Britain" strategy of seeking out new trade opportunities far from Europe's shores.

"It's global Britain in action. That's what we've been seeing here," she said.

"I am doing what the British people want, which is delivering on Brexit but also getting out around the world ensuring that we bring jobs back to Britain. Companies will be selling more great British products to China as a result of this trip. There will be more people in jobs in the UK as a result of this trip. That's global Britain in action."

Pressed on when she would spell out precise details of her vision of the end-state for post-Brexit Britain, Mrs May said: "I've set out what my vision is, I've set out and I've said to people that at every stage where we can fill in the detail we will do so and that's exactly what I've been doing.

"The idea that we are about to complete the negotiation with the EU about our future relationship is wrong. We are just at the very beginning of that process of negotiating with the EU. We will be out there ensuring that the deal we get delivers on what the British people want. That's what this is about."

Theresa May and her husband Philip pose for a photograph with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing during her visit to China (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Theresa May and her husband Philip pose for a photograph with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing during her visit to China (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Asked if she wanted to be Conservative leader at the time of the next general election, she replied: "I've been asked this question on a number of occasions. I've said very clearly that throughout my political career I've served my country and I've served my party.

"I'm not a quitter. I'm in this because there is a job to be done here and that's delivering for the British people and doing that in a way that ensures the future prosperity of our country. Global Britain is a real vision for the United Kingdom. I want the British people to see a government that is delivering for them around the world, and that's exactly what we are doing."

Asked whether he expected the PM to stay on, Dr Fox told Bloomberg: "Theresa May's middle name is resilience. And that's exactly what she's showing and I do wish more people could have seen the commitment she was showing to Britain's national interest on this trip to China."

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