The international trade secretary told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show he wanted the EU without the UK to be successful with trade deals that “minimise trade barriers” but refused to be drawn on whether Britain should remain a part of the EU’s customs union.
On the same programme, the former chancellor George Osborne warned that scrapping existing trade arrangements with the EU in the hope of achieving new deals would be the “biggest act of protectionism in British history”.
Fox refused to confirm explicitly that he supported a transitional arrangement with the EU to tide Britain over between a formal exit in 2019 and any new trade deal with Brussels, an arrangement the chancellor, Philip Hammond, backs.
He said that depended on the kind of transitional deal that could be struck, saying an arrangement that was too close to the status quo would go against the wishes of those who had voted to leave the EU.
But the former defence minister insisted that he remained “instinctively a free trader”, adding: “It is very important that we have continuity in our trade and it makes no sense to impose tariffs across the European continent.
“To whose advantage would it be if we had tariffs against French agricultural goods? It would not help our consumers.”
Asked about the charge made on Sunday morning by Nigel Farage, who said cabinet ministers had been banned from talking to him, Fox said he had had “no such instructions”.
He also dismissed suggestions that the prime minister should call early elections in 2017, saying there would be “enough political instability” in Europe next year with elections due in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Osborne spoke out in favour of maintaining close relations with Europe. He said: “The question on the ballot paper was ‘Do you want to leave the EU?’ – it was not about the new arrangement we have with the rest of Europe.
“And I am certainly someone who believes that it is Britain’s national interest that we have the closest possible relations with our key partners: the French, the Germans and the Dutch.
“Yes, we may be able to conduct new free trade deals with Australia, the US and so on. But that should not come at a price of giving up our existing trading arrangements we have with with Germany and France.
“You can’t say we are a beacon of free trade in the world and the main thing we achieve is a huge act of protectionism, the biggest in British history.”
Osborne also appeared to take a swipe at Theresa May by emphasising that he was at the forefront of the remain campaign, while others chose to sit it out.
The prime minister has faced criticism for a low profile during the campaign, even though she was supposed to be campaigning to stay in the EU.
Asked if it was true that he did not want Cameron to hold a referendum, Osborne said: “I wasn’t a great fan of having a referendum but I am also a team player. And politics is most successful when you are part of a team.
“Once we were in the referendum, I did everything I could to win it. I was not going to sit it out. I thought it was an important enough issue about the future of the country. I was prepared to do what I knew I was doing at the time, which was to damage my reputation with fellow Conservatives who I knew didn’t agree with me, because in the end what is the point of doing those sorts of jobs if you are not fighting for what is right?”
This article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Sunday 18th December 2016 11.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010