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Brexit: Government minister Liam Fox admits MPs can stop Britain leaving EU

'It would entirely be possible for amendments to a number of pieces of legislation to achieve that effect'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 05 December 2018 12:19 GMT
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Brexit: Government minister Liam Fox admits MPs can stop Britain leaving EU

Liam Fox says it will be “entirely possible” for MPs to halt Brexit, as he urged Conservative MPs to rally behind Theresa May’s deal.

The Commons could ambush and amend several bills that the government needs to pass “to make our exit from European Union effective”, the trade secretary told MPs.

Dr Fox pointed to the trade bill – currently stalled in parliament – which was needed to allow the UK to take its separate place at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), after Brexit.

Asked if the UK could end up with “no Brexit at all”, he replied: “It would entirely be possible for amendments to a number of pieces of legislation, we believe, to achieve that effect.”

Dr Fox told the international trade committee it was correct the motion passed on Tuesday night – giving MPs a say over what happens if the prime minister’s deal is rejected – was not binding.

But he added: “There are a number of pieces of legislation that we need to pass to be able to make our exit from the European Union effective.”

The Trade Bill was needed to “roll over” deals with other countries enjoyed through EU membership and to sign up to the WTO’s general procurement agreement (GPA), in order to buy goods and services.

“Certainly, it wouldn’t be possible to have the UK membership of the GPA without the legislation of the trade bill going through,” Dr Fox admitted.

Other leading Brexiteers have vowed to defeat Ms May’s deal next Tuesday, despite the warnings that doing so could lead to “no Brexit at all”.

But Dr Fox warned of an “attempt to steal Brexit from the British people, which I think would be a democratic affront”.

The motion, passed with the support of 26 rebel Tories, indicated that the Commons had “no intention of allowing no deal to happen”.

Urging Tory MPs not to risk the prise of leaving the EU, he said: “After last night’s vote, the chances are that we will end up not having Brexit.”

Catherine McKinnell, a Labour supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, criticised Dr Fox for saying that stepping back from the brink would be parliament “stealing” Brexit.

“Liam Fox is running scared of the people and their verdict on this fudge of a Brexit deal. A People’s Vote is about stopping a terrible deal being forced on all of us,” she said.

The trade secretary refused to say what the government’s “plan B” was, given the near certainty of a heavy defeat on the withdrawal agreement next week.

“The government's plan is to get this vote through the House of Commons,” he replied.

Describing the Irish border backstop as a “calculated risk to be taken”, Dr Fox admitted that alignment with Northern Ireland – to avoid regulatory checks – would hit hopes of new trade deals.

“The application of regulatory alignment would not make it possible to introduce any of those elements in trade agreements....services may be applicable, but not goods.”

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