Liam Fox’s department u-turns on Brexit trade deal pledge

Liam Fox's trade department has secretly admitted to some of Britain's biggest businesses that the 40 free trade deals the minister promised to have ready by Brexit day are "unlikely" to materialise.

The admission, seen by the Press Association, is contained in the minutes of a meeting attended by senior figures at the likes of Burberry, Mulberry and Hornby at a behind-closed-doors event.

At the meeting, Department for Trade officials were probed on the pledge by Mr Fox that he would sign free trade agreements to replicate the EU's 40 existing deals with countries around the world.

However, the minutes read: "A panel member asked whether it was true (as claimed by Liam Fox) that there were 40 FTAs ready to go, just awaiting a signature and that the only delay was the EU Exit date of 29 March.

"DIT said that there was confidence that some of those agreements could be signed ahead of exit date, although it was unlikely they would all be signed before the leave date. This being so, there would not be continuity from day one of EU exit."

Mr Fox has previously said that he'd have "40 trade deals ready for one second after midnight" on March 29. He also said that a "free trade deal with the EU should be the easiest in human history".

The private event was one of a number of sessions the Government is holding with businesses to assess their readiness for a no deal Brexit and to hear concerns.

However, one company representative present said they felt left "high and dry", adding that no real advice could be given because "they haven't got a clue what is going to happen".

Among the countries the Department has signed a trade deal with include Switzerland, which guarantees future trading terms between the two countries following Brexit.

The revelations come just weeks after Airbus chief executive Tom Enders branded the Government's handling of EU withdrawal a "disgrace" and said the company could pull out of the UK if Brexit undermines its ability to compete.

British businesses are also stockpiling goods as March 29 draws nearer, when the UK will by default crash out of the block if a withdrawal agreement cannot be reached.

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