Theresa May reiterated her desire for Britain to leaves the EU customs union and single market on Friday but insisted a “frictionless trade” arrangement between the EU and the UK remains possible.
Her speech came just days after Jeremy Corbyn announced the Labour party supports the idea of remaining in the EU customs union, or a new customs union, to avoid damaging industry and the prospect of a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Now the International Trade Secretary has come forward and said Labour’s stance would result in Britain being “rule takers with no say in how they were made”.
Dr Fox added remaining in the customs union would “limit our ability to reach new trade agreements with the world’s fastest-growing economies”, and restrict the UK’s ability to help “the world’s poorest nations to trade their way out of poverty.”
Writing in the Telegraph, he continued: “Moreover, whatever sectors a customs union covered, were the EU to make its own new trade agreements in the future, we would be forced to allow goods from other countries into our market tariff-free, on terms set by Brussels, without any guaranteed tariff-free access to the markets of other countries in return.
“And, if we were to disagree, Brussels could simply overrule us.”
Dr Fox warned: “It would be a betrayal of Britain’s national interests.
“What we do want to see are new customs arrangements, designed to minimise any unnecessary costs or regulations at our borders so that trade can continue as frictionless as possible.
“That would be in the interests of both British traders and consumers and our continental neighbours.
“Remaining in a customs union of any type would only make sense if we were to abandon our global ambitions and limit our abilities to shape our trade policy.”
The trade secretary’s comments reflect the generally positive reception of Mrs May’s speech among Tory MPs, from hard Brexiteers including Jacob Rees-Mogg to rebels like Sarah Wollaston.
Mr Rees-Mogg praised the Prime Minister’s “good” speech, adding: “There are inevitably a few small points that will concern Leave campaigners but we must all recognise that everyone will have to give up something to get a deal, so now is not the time to nitpick.”
Sarah Wollaston meanwhile, who was among eight Tories backing an amendment requiring the UK to “participate after exit day in a customs union with the EU”, said: “We’re all going to have to accept that we won’t get our way on everything.”
Dr Wollaston told BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster: “The purpose of signing amendments often is to get the Government to talk to you and to come up with their own proposals … and compromise.
“As the Prime Minister set out, we’re all going to have to accept that we won’t get our way on everything.
“It would be my preference to see us remain in a customs union to actually maintain frictionless trade, and I think it is the best solution to the Northern Ireland issue. But I also accept there are trade-offs with that because we wouldn’t have the freedom to make our own trade deals with the rest of the world.
“Let’s see what the Prime Minister can achieve through her customs partnership proposals. I think it’s absolutely important that we give her the chance to move forward with that if we can.”