Trade Secretary criticised for not making trip to see EU partners
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has come under fire for failing to make an official trip to Britain’s biggest global trading partner – the European Union.
Dr Fox is yet to make an overseas trip to see his counterparts in the EU, despite the bloc accounting for 44% of Britain’s exports and with British businesses desperate to know what a post-Brexit trading relationship will look like.
He has instead opted for trips to the likes of Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as India and the US.
The movements of the pro-Brexit campaigner can be revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the Press Association.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accused him of “achieving nothing”, and urged Dr Fox to work with European governments to secure a good deal.
“It’s abundantly clear he’s flying around the globe yet achieving nothing. Fox should be working with European governments and fighting for a good Brexit deal for Britain,” he said.
“If he’s not willing to do that there is really no point in his department at all.”
Britain’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3 billion last year, according to the Office for National Statistics, while imports from the EU reached £291.1 billion.
Dr Fox’s first trip was to the United States in July, the same month he returned to the Cabinet in a reshuffle.
In August and September, he flew to India and the Middle East respectively to meet senior politicians and business leaders to emphasise that “Britain remains open for business”.
He also made a trip to Geneva, Switzerland, at the end of September to deliver a speech on trade at the World Trade Organisation’s annual public forum.
Dr Fox’s last trip was to India, where he accompanied Theresa May on her first trade mission as Prime Minister.
The FOI covers the period between Dr Fox’s appointment on July 13 and October 11.
Allie Renison, head of EU and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, said she would expect Dr Fox to give priority to non-EU markets in his initial overseas trips, as he prepares the groundwork for the UK’s post-EU trade policy.
However, she added: “While responsibility for Brexit negotiations is split across Whitehall, it would be encouraging to see Liam Fox meet with EU ministers as well, given it will continue to be the largest market for British exporters for some time.”
According to the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests, Dr Fox did make a trip to Porto, Portugal, on September 30 to deliver a speech on free trade at the European Young Conservatives Freedom Summit.
The £1,193.24 hotel and travel costs for Dr Fox and his staff member were paid for by the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists.
Dr Fox’s personal spokesman said: “Dr Fox delivered a keynote speech on free trade in Portugal in September.
“Dr Fox and his ministerial team have and will continue to visit EU countries and global destinations.”
It is understood that while the former GP has not made an official EU trip himself, he has sent a number of his ministerial team to the continent.
Dr Fox was criticised by captains of industry in September when he accused British businessmen of being fat and lazy and preferring to play golf on a Friday afternoon rather than seeking new export opportunities.
The Government refused to disclose his travel costs as part of the FOI request, saying that it would publish the full details on its website at a later date.