Liam Fox: I fear Brexit may never happen

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Media captionLiam Fox speaks to Newsnight

A cabinet Brexiteer has voiced fears that Remain supporters in parliament will seek to overturn the referendum result over the next week.

Liam Fox told BBC Newsnight that a large number of MPs want to keep the UK "locked in the EU", adding there needs to be an end to the "self-induced pessimism" which is denying the opportunities offered by Brexit.

Dr Fox also called on the EU to show greater flexibility as he called on Brussels to move away from defending "the purity of the European project".

And the cabinet minister, who was close to Margaret Thatcher, hinted that he would have endorsed Theresa May's Brexit deal.

Dr Fox said it would be wrong to second guess the late prime minister. But he added: "Mrs Thatcher made a lot of compromises in terms of our relationship with Europe.

"This is the time for Britain to reclaim our freedom and to be able to use that in a positive way to help shape the prosperity, the stability and the security in which future generations of Britons will live."

The international trade secretary, who was speaking to Newsnight during a visit to the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, voiced fears that Remain MPs may seek to wrest control of Brexit from the government next week.

Theresa May is due to hold a second "meaningful" vote on her Brexit deal next Tuesday.

If that falls there will be a vote on whether to support a no deal Brexit. If that is rejected, MPs will be given the chance to vote on whether to extend article 50, with the possibility of pro-Europeans seeking to table amendments to push for a softer Brexit.

Dr Fox said he supports the prime minister's deal because it is the best way of honouring the referendum while leaving the EU in an orderly way. But he added: "The thing that I fear is that...there will be a risk that we might not deliver Brexit at all.

"In Parliament there are a large number of MPs who do not see it as their primary objective to deliver the referendum and would want to keep us locked to the EU."

We are not some insignificant little country

The minister criticised commentators and politicians who have railed against Brexit.

He said: "This mood of self-induced pessimism that has pervaded a great deal of the commentariat in recent times, and indeed some of the political system, is hugely damaging.

"It is time we actually took a positive view of where Britain is and what Britain's opportunities could be. We are not some insignificant little country. We are the fifth biggest economy in the world."

Dr Fox acknowledged that the UK's negotiations with the EU were tough and would go close to the wire. But he called on the EU to show greater flexibility.

The minister said: "There needs to be a concentrating of minds not on the purity of the European project but on jobs, prosperity and trade for the real citizens of Europe."

Dr Fox also pleaded with Tory Brexiteers opposed to the prime minister's deal to show flexibility. "You can never allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Many of us have made compromises throughout this process."

Dr Fox visited the WTO in Geneva amid reports that the cabinet has agreed to lift up to 90% of the UK's trade tariffs in the event of no deal.

He declined to confirm the reports in the FT and on Sky News but added: "What we will want to is, in the event of no deal, show that we have a clear idea of how we can maximise the opportunities and mitigate the difficulties. We are well agreed on that."

The international trade secretary, who met delegations from the Commonwealth and the Caribbean, said he sensed strong interest in the UK beyond Brexit. "There is a world beyond Europe and there will be a time beyond Brexit.

"We need to start to discuss what the opportunities are for the UK as we move into that new world what role we will have in shaping the global trading future."

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