Brexit will not harm Britain, WTO head admits
Britain is set for a “fast and smooth” divorce from the EU, the head of the World Trade Organisation said on Wednesday.
After previously claiming Brexit would be a disaster, Roberto Azevedo said he was confident it would not cause “disruption” to the UK’s trading relationships after all.
He gave an upbeat assessment of Britain’s economic prospects as he said he did not believe the vote to cut ties with Brussels was an “anti-trade” statement by the British public.
And the WTO chief suggested other countries would be reluctant to punish the UK if it meant damaging their own economies.
“The less turbulence the better,” said Azevedo. “The global economy today is not in the best shape for us to be introducing turbulence.”
His comments came another day of events that confounded the Brexit doom-mongers.
It emerged that car exports rose by five per cent in a year and average earnings leapt by almost two per cent last year.
French firm Axa gave the go-ahead for construction of the tallest skyscraper in the City of London, and economists predicted that growth figures today would show the economy expanding by at least 0.3 per cent in the third quarter.
During the referendum campaign, Azevedo warned repeatedly that leaving the EU would wreck Britain’s trade prospects.
But he adopted a different position yesterday, telling Sky News: “Trade will not stop – it will continue and members negotiate the legal basis under which that trade is going to happen. But it doesn’t mean that we’ll have a vacuum or a disruption in terms of trade flows.
“I will be working hard – I will work very intensely to ensure that this transition is fast and is smooth.”
Downing Street welcomed the comments, saying it was focused on a “smooth, orderly” departure from the EU. But Azevedo also faced criticism over the dire warnings he made previously.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Tory member of the Commons Treasury committee, said: “It is fascinating to see so many people who trotted out scare stories during the referendum campaign are now retreating.
“So many prestigious international bodies tried to mislead the British people – it is rather sad how biased they were.”
Ukip MEP Patrick O’Flynn said Azevedo’s comments “further strengthen the case for speeding up” Brexit.
He added: “Project Fear is in real trouble because the basic facts are on Britain’s side when it comes to international trade.”
International trade secretary Liam Fox warned the EU against trying to penalise Britain, saying they risked “putting politics ahead of prosperity”.
He told MPs he was hopeful ministers would be able to negotiate a deal that allows the UK to continue with existing free trade arrangements with EU members.
“That’s in all their advantages and I think those who put politics ahead of prosperity might want to think twice,” said Fox.
Meanwhile, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell will on Thursday attack the government over suggestions the UK could continue to pay billions to the EU in return for giving the City special access to the single market.
In a speech in London, he will say: “They want a ‘Bankers’ Brexit’, in the interests of an elite few, not the majority. They’ll cut a deal for finance, but ignore our small businesses and manufacturers.”
Figures also revealed that car exports passed the one million mark this year – five per cent higher than a year ago.
Almost 160,000 vehicles were built last month – an increase of almost one per cent compared to last September – with exports topping 120,000.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said car production for global markets had now risen for 14 months in a row.