Decisions on whether to allow chlorine-washed chicken to be sold to British consumers would be taken at the “very end stage” of a potential US-UK free trade deal, Liam Fox said as he condemned media “obsession” with the subject.
The International Trade Secretary was in Washington for talks on post-Brexit trade links with the US amid concerns that any agreement would open up British markets to US agricultural products including the controversial chickens.
Dr Fox said closer trade ties could boost prosperity in both countries and hit out at Brexit critics, claiming they were “dreaming” if they thought the UK could end up remaining in the European Union.
Asked if he would feel comfortable eating a chlorine-washed chicken, Dr Fox said: “In a debate which should be about how we make our contribution to global liberalisation and the increased prosperity of both the UK, the US and our trading partners, the complexities of those – the continuity agreements, the short-term gains that we may make, the opportunities we have and our ability to work jointly towards both a free-trade agreement and WTO liberalisation – the British media are obsessed with chlorine-washed chickens, a detail of the very end stage of one sector of a potential free trade agreement. I say no more than that.”
Dr Fox urged Remainers to accept the result of the referendum and help secure the best outcome for the UK rather than seek to “thwart” Brexit.
The prominent Brexiteer said: “Those who are still intent on trying to thwart the process, or seem to hope that something will magically appear that will change the referendum results, they are dreaming.”
Answering questions following a speech at the American Enterprise Institute conservative think tank, Dr Fox said it would be “optimistic” to think a free-trade deal with the EU could be concluded by the time of Brexit in March 2019 but ministers were supportive of a transitional deal so that businesses would not face a cliff-edge change in the rules. There was a “growing consensus” in Cabinet for an “implementation” phase, which would see the UK voluntarily keep some of the EU’s laws and rules, he said.
But he rejected Brussels’ demands for the European Court of Justice to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, saying it was a “very strange view of jurisprudence”.
Theresa May’s spokesman said it was too early to discuss details of any trade deal, such as the issue of chlorinated chicken.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said: “The government is putting the Fox in charge of the hen coop when it comes to food safety. This row about chlorine chicken is a direct result of the government’s decision to leave the single market. They are so desperate for new trade deals to make up for some of the losses that they seem ready to compromise on the safety of the food we eat.”
Britain is to release a report detailing the UK’s trade links with every single one of the 435 congressional districts in the US, in a bid to win the backing of American politicians for a swift post-Brexit trade deal.
The publication, which highlights more than 700,000 US jobs supported by exports to the UK in 2015, has been compiled by an US/UK trade and investment working group set up by Dr Fox’s Department for International Trade.
In his speech to the AEI, Dr Fox warned global growth and prosperity were under threat from an increase in protectionist measures “silting up” world trade since the crash of 2008. He called for swift completion of the mooted Trade in Services Agreement to liberalise trade in sectors like banking and healthcare.