Liam Fox hit out at the EU for acting ‘like a gang’ by trying to bully UK in the Brexit talks
His warning came after the European Commission yesterday slapped the Government with a demand for more than £2.4 billion of underpaid customs duties on cheap Chinese fashion imports.
A senior Downing Street official said the Government “did not recognise” the figure.
Dr Fox, one of the leading Brexit supporters in the Cabinet, spoke out during an appearance at the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference in Westminster yesterday.
In a question-and-answer session following a keynote speech, the senior Tory criticised a draft negotiating document published by EU Council President Donald Tusk earlier this week that insisted Britain will have to accept “negative economic consequences” for leaving the EU.
Liam Fox making a speech at the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference
Punishing Britain to me is not the language of the club, it is the language of the gang
“Punishing Britain to me is not the language of the club, it is the language of the gang,” Dr Fox told the conference.
“I do believe rationality and common sense will win the day if we conduct ourselves with decorum and patience. It is in all our interests to keep the temperature down.”
In his speech, Dr Fox rubbished suggestions from Remainers that Brexit would tip Britain into an “economic black hole”.
The International Trade Secretary told the business leaders at the conference: “There are great prizes for our economy as we leave the EU in this era of globalisation if we have the courage to grasp them.
‘Both sides should approach this constructively’, said Theresa May’s spokesman
“We cannot let the patterns of the past constrain the opportunities of the future.”
He added: ” In just 10 years the proportion of our exports that go the European Union has dropped by 11% and this is unlikely to be a one-off change.
“The IMF predict that over the next 10 years or so 90%, of global growth will be outside the European Union.”
Asked if Theresa May agreed with Dr Fox’s description of the EU, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “I think he was saying that both sides should approach this constructively.
“He also talked about wanting the talks to be conducted in a positive manner.”
At the same conference, DUP leader Arlene Foster said warnings from Remain campaigners that Brexit was a threat to the Northern Ireland peace process were an “insult”.
In a remarks seen as a swipe at recent outbursts by former prime minister Tony Blair and Sir John Major on the issue, she said: “I object in the strongest possible terms to people who have limited experience of the Troubles in Northern Ireland throwing threats of violence around as some kind of bargaining chip in this negotiating process.
“To do so is an insult to the people of Northern Ireland who worked so hard to bring peace to our country.”
She added: “I want to see an optimistic, sensible and pragmatic approach to Brexit.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster wants to see an ‘optimistic, sensible and pragmatic approach to Brexit’
In his opening address to the conference, British Chambers of Commerce president Francis Martin urged both sides in the Brexit negotiations to get on with the job.
“The time for political posturing on both sides is over.
“The time for getting stuck into the detail and answering those real world business questions has arrived, otherwise there’s the very real possibility that we will see business hiring less, investing less, or, worst of all, looking elsewhere for future growth,” he said.
The EU cash demand yesterday related to clothes and shoes arriving at British ports from China since 2007.
Importers have been accused of under-reporting the value of the gooids in an attempt to minimise the customs duties collected and passed on to Brussels.
A report by the EU’s anti-fraud office Olaf last year found that the UK authorities failed to take action despite being informed of the risk of customs evasion and asked to implement appropriate control measures.
The commission calculates that the UK’s failure to clamp down on the “undervaluation fraud scheme” resulted in a loss to the EU budget totalling 2.7 billion euros (£2.4 billion).
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Announcing its decision to send a “letter of formal notice”, the European Commission said in a statement: “Despite having been informed of the risks of fraud relating to the importation of textiles and footwear originating in the People’s Republic of China since 2007, and despite having been asked to take appropriate risk control measures, the United Kingdom failed to take action to prevent the fraud.
“The United Kingdom is liable for the financial consequences of its infringements of EU legislation.”
The Olaf report found that UK importers evaded a “large amount” of customs duties by using fictitious and false invoices and incorrect customs value declarations.
There was a “dramatic” increase in the scale of the fraud between 2011 and 2017.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We will carefully examine the formal notice from the Commission and respond in due course.
“But we do not recognise the European Commission’s estimate of alleged duty loss.
“We take customs fraud very seriously, as our track record proves and we continue to work with our European partners and evolve our response as new threats emerge.”