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Brexit: Theresa May 'not bluffing' in threat to leave EU without a deal, Tory minister Liam Fox says

The Independent logo The Independent 23/06/2018 Benjamin Kentish
Liam Fox wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Theresa May is not "bluffing" when she threatens to take the UK out of the European Union without a deal, a senior cabinet minister has said.

Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, said the prime minister was ready to walk away without an agreement as part of her commitment to deliver a "people's Brexit".

The government is committed to its policy of "no deal is better than a bad deal", he added, telling the EU it needs to "understand that and believe it".

Watch: Brexit: Two years on (PA)

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His warning comes as cabinet ministers battle for control of the Brexit process ahead of a key meeting at Chequers next month.

The "away day" of the cabinet's Brexit sub-committee is designed to resolve a number of major differences between senior ministers on issues such as the single market, customs union and the Northern Ireland border.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May attends a press conference with Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg at 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls © Catalyst Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May attends a press conference with Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg at 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Discussions are likely to include how much the UK should compromise in order to avoid crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Mr Fox told the BBC: "The prime minister has always said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and that no deal would be better than a bad deal. I think it's essential as we enter the next phase of the negotiations that the European Union understands that and believes it.

Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (L) and Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Minister) David Davis (R) leave from 10 Downing Street in London on June 7, 2018. - British Prime Minister Theresa May gathered her ministers Thursday amid swirling rumours that Brexit secretary David Davis could quit over her plans to avoid a hard Irish border. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images) © Catalyst Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (L) and Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Minister) David Davis (R) leave from 10 Downing Street in London on June 7, 2018. - British Prime Minister Theresa May gathered her ministers Thursday amid swirling rumours that Brexit secretary David Davis could quit over her plans to avoid a hard Irish border. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

He added: "If we were to leave, the economic impact on a number of European countries would be severe. Countries like Ireland, countries like the Netherlands, countries like Belgium - would really feel the impact of that and that cannot be what the European Union 27 actually want to see.

"This ultimately has to be about an economic and a people's Brexit, not a bureaucrat's Brexit.

"I think our negotiating partners would not be wise if they believed that the prime minister was bluffing."

Mr Fox was backed by Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and David Davis, the Brexit secretary, in a round of media appearances by Brexiteer cabinet ministers.

Asked about the prospect of leaving without a deal, Mr Davis told The Express: "We don't want to do that, never have. The best option is leaving with a good deal but you've got to be able to walk away from the table.

He also dismissed accusations the government had not properly prepared for Brexit, saying: "There's lots going on, we haven't made it public for very simple reasons.

"This is a careful process, it is not designed to scare the horses to worry people, it is designed to get the work done."

In this photo taken Wednesday, June 20, 2018, an anti-Brexit, pro-EU supporter holds an EU flag and a placard during a protest backdropped by the Houses of Parliament in London. The divisions opened up by the 2016 referendum have not healed, but hardened, splitting Britain into two camps: leavers and remainers. Almost the only thing the two groups share is pessimism about the way Brexit is going. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) © Catalyst In this photo taken Wednesday, June 20, 2018, an anti-Brexit, pro-EU supporter holds an EU flag and a placard during a protest backdropped by the Houses of Parliament in London. The divisions opened up by the 2016 referendum have not healed, but hardened, splitting Britain into two camps: leavers and remainers. Almost the only thing the two groups share is pessimism about the way Brexit is going. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

And writing in The Sun, Mr Johnson said: "Across the country I find people who - whatever they voted two years ago - just want us to get on and do it.

"They don't want a half-hearted Brexit. They don't want some sort of hopeless compromise, some perpetual pushme-pullyou arrangement in which we stay half-in and half-out in a political no man's land - with no more ministers round the table in Brussels and yet forced to obey EU laws.

"They don't want some bog roll Brexit, soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long.

"They want this Government to fulfil the mandate of the people and de

Airbus CEO warns the company could leave the UK in the event of no deal Brexit."

However, in a sign of ongoing cabinet divisions ahead of the crunch meeting at Chequers, business secretary Greg Clark, who backed Remain, warned about the economic risks of ending freedom of movement.

He said: “I completely understand when companies say that they rely on efficient mobility as it currently stands, raising concerns that restricting people’s ability to travel at short notice would be as damaging to our economy as frictions and disruption at our borders."

His comments came after leading businesses said growing uncertainty over Brexit risked thousands of UK jobs being moved abroad.

Airbus said it was considering cutting thousands of jobs in the UK as it starts to "press the button on crisis actions" over Brexit concerns.

In this photo taken Wednesday, June 20, 2018, anti-Brexit, pro-EU supporters hold placards during a protest near the Houses of Parliament in London. The divisions opened up by the 2016 referendum have not healed, but hardened, splitting Britain into two camps: leavers and remainers. Almost the only thing the two groups share is pessimism about the way Brexit is going. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) © Catalyst In this photo taken Wednesday, June 20, 2018, anti-Brexit, pro-EU supporters hold placards during a protest near the Houses of Parliament in London. The divisions opened up by the 2016 referendum have not healed, but hardened, splitting Britain into two camps: leavers and remainers. Almost the only thing the two groups share is pessimism about the way Brexit is going. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Katherine Bennett, the company's senior vice president in the UK, said: "We don't deal in idle threats. We seriously believe a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic."

And Juergen Maier, chief executive of Siemens UK, said the language used by Mr Johnson and other Brexiteers was "incredibly unhelpful".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today: "I think the realities are setting in and I think it is time to get away from slogans, 'full British Brexit', 'going into combat with Europe'.

"It's all incredibly unhelpful and what we need to do now is to get closer with our European partners and work out what a realistic, pragmatic Brexit is that works for both sides, the EU and ourselves."

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