Whose fault is it that Liam Fox hasn't done his job? That's right, everyone's fault but his

Liam Fox has signed four of the 40 trade deals he was meant to have signed by now, and it turns out Labour is to blame

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Wednesday 13 February 2019 19:37 GMT
Cabinet minister Liam Fox: 'No Brexit is possible'

Not so long ago, one of Donald Trump’s sons made a fool of himself by comparing Syrian refugees to Skittles. “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem,” he said, or more accurately, retweeted, opening to maximum width the window into a mind too tiny to see that there is just no allegorical link between children caught in deadly conflict and potentially poisoned fruit sweets.

But it does, years later, offer a route into, at time of writing, Liam Fox’s most recent Brexit embarrassment.

Because, if Liam Fox was holding out a large box of chocolates, in which just three remain, and you have learnt the hard way that all the others have turned out not to be chocolate, but very lightly cocoa-dusted excrement, would you swallow another?

It’s not just that Liam Fox was meant to have signed 40 trade deals by now and it turns out he’s only signed four. It’s that when asked to account for his transparent failure to deliver on his undeliverable promises, his response was to make some more.

Some background: at the 2017 Tory conference, Liam Fox stood onstage and uttered the following words. “We’re going to replicate the 40 EU free trade agreements that exist before we leave the European Union so we’ve got no disruption of trade. I hear people saying, ‘Oh, we won’t have any [free trade agreements] before we leave.’ Well believe me we’ll have up to 40 ready for one second after midnight in March 2019.”

I remember thinking at the time, not so much, “Oooh, he’s made himself a real hostage to fortune there,” but more, “When this absolutely 100 per cent turns out to be completely untrue, will it make the blindest bit of difference?”

Now, in news that will come as a shock to absolutely no one, it turns out, according to analysis by his own department, that currently only four of them are signed, one of which is with the Faroe Islands, and 19 of them are “significantly off-track”.

But the point to hang on to here, as Liam Fox was forced to come to the House of Commons to update MPs on the latest bit of Brexit promise that’s turned out to be garbage, is that even as Brexiteers’ every historical utterance crumbles to an embarrassed nothingness, they continue to make more promises, and expect them to be believed.

Because it turns out, what Liam Fox meant when he said that thing that stood zero per cent chance of ever coming true, was that the best way for those agreements to “roll over” when we leave the EU in 43 days time, was not for him to actually do all the deals he hasn’t done, but instead to do a transitional deal with the European Union – the one his Brexiteer colleagues in the Tory party consistently vote down, and if Liam Fox hadn’t been given his meaningless job in which to so spectacularly underperform, he would be voting it down too.

That’s right. In just 18 months, “Of course I’ll have everything in place for when we leave the EU” has turned into, “If you won’t cover my arse for me it’ll all be your fault!”

A large number of these unsigned trade deals are, according to his own department, “impossible” to deliver on time. To which his response was that it was always going to go “down to the wire”. Which it will, and once it has gone down to the wire, it will then go over it. The wire will move. And it will be someone else’s fault.

It was the second time in three days that a Brexiteer has been called to the House of Commons to explain why they had been wrong about something everyone had told them they were wrong about, only for them to claim they were still right, and everyone else was still wrong.

On Monday, Chris Grayling did the same with the cancellation of the shipping contract that had been given to a shipless shipping company, which he said would be fine, and now it’s not fine, that’s also fine.

But that is where we are. Being hopelessly wrong about everything has ceased to be a barrier to anything. By now, David Davis was meant to have been to Berlin to sign a trade deal with the German car industry. He was meant to have established the UK’s new free trade area, “10 times larger than the European Union”, even though a free trade area 10 times larger than the European Union would, in GDP terms, be larger than planet Earth.

None of this has happened, of course. But we might be about to find out that if people are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.

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