Britain can enjoy trade with the European Union that is “at least as free” as it is now despite Brexit, Liam Fox has claimed.
The International Trade Secretary said it was in the interests of EU countries not to erect tariffs and instead to offer the UK free and open trade after it leaves the union.
Any other arrangement could harm European nations because they export more to the UK than vice versa, Dr Fox said.
He spoke as the debate continued over whether the Government should pursue a “hard Brexit” outside the European single market free trade zone, so it can get full control of its borders.
The issue could dominate the upcoming Tory conference, although Prime Minister Theresa May as taken an unusual step in scheduling a major speech on Sunday, the opening day, to address Brexit in a possible attempt to deal with it early before moving on.
Answering questions after a “major” speech in Manchester, Dr Fox suggested Britain could maintain the benefits of the single market post-Brexit.
“Protectionism never actually helps anybody at all and as we move into a post-Brexit arena, we want it to be as free and as open as possible,” he said.
“And don’t just look at it from the UK perspective, the European Union has a massive surplus in goods with the UK.
“Who does it harm more if we end up in a new tariff environment?
“Does it harm more those who sell more to the UK, or the UK?
“It’s in everybody’s interests that, as we move forward, that we have at least as free a trading environment as we have today.
“Everything else may not harm the politicians and institutions but it will harm the people of Europe, and it’s the people of Europe who should be at the forefront of our thoughts during that period.”