Liam Fox, U.K. international trade secretary, delivers a speech on Brexit at Bloomberg’s European headquarters in London, U.K., on Feb. 27, 2018. (Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg)

U.K.’s Fox Says Brexit No-Deal Outcome Is More Likely Than Not

(Bloomberg) -- The Brexit negotiations are more likely to end in failure than in success, U.K. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said, adding to a growing sense that Britain is heading for a messy divorce from the European Union.

There’s a 60 percent likelihood of a no-deal outcome, Fox told the Sunday Times in an interview. He blamed the European Commission for a lack of flexibility in fraught talks for 16 months. Prime Minister Theresa May hopes to conclude a divorce deal and the broad outline of a future trade agreement by October, giving the U.K. and European parliaments until Britain’s scheduled departure in March to debate and vote on the package.

U.K.’s Fox Says Brexit No-Deal Outcome Is More Likely Than Not

“The intransigence of the commission is pushing us towards no deal,” Fox told the paper. “We have set out the basis in which a deal can ­happen but if the EU decides that the theological obsession of the unelected is to take priority over the economic wellbeing of the ­people of Europe then it’s a bureaucrats’ Brexit -- not a ­people’s Brexit,” and “there is only going to be one outcome.”

The U.K. government has ratcheted up pressure on the EU in recent weeks, urging the bloc to loosen its red lines and come to an accommodation over Brexit. Part of the U.K. strategy involves giving greater visibility for no-deal planning. May has said Britain will publish some 70 technical notes to lay out domestic plans for coping with a scenario without an accord, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned last week ahead of visits to Paris and Vienna that “we potentially face the prospect of a no-deal by accident.”

May’s office said in an emailed statement Sunday that the government is “confident” of securing a deal with the EU. “However it is the job of a responsible Government to prepare for all scenarios,” it said. “The technical notices we will publish in August and September will set out our plans for a range of exit scenarios in order to guide businesses and the public on how they can best prepare."

Stronger Hand

“It’s essential that ‘no deal’ looks credible to the EU,” Fox said. “If our message on ‘no deal’ is becoming more credible and resonating with those we are negotiating with in Europe, then our negotiating hand is getting stronger every day and we shouldn’t do anything to undermine that.”

Hunt warned that leaving without an agreement would lead to lost jobs in Europe, while Fox on Sunday said that EU leaders must decide whether they want to protect jobs, trade and profit, or “the purity of the EU’s ideology.”

Macron Wooed

May on Friday cut short her holiday in Italy for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. After she finally devised a plan for the post-Brexit economic partnership with the EU last month, Europe’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, pushed back against its centerpiece -- a proposal for Britain to collect tariffs at EU rates at its borders in order to maintain a “frictionless” boundary with the bloc.

That’s left May with little room to maneuver because Brexiteers in her party already say the strategy offers too many concessions to the bloc. Former Brexit Minister David Jones used an article in the Sun on Sunday to condemn May’s plan, enshrined in a so-called White Paper, as “Brexit in Name Only,” or Brino.

The aim of the establishment is “to ensure we have such a soft Brexit that it will be as if we had never left,” Jones wrote. “The government’s own Brexit White Paper makes clear that that is the desired outcome.”

Patel, Farage

Another detractor of May’s strategy, former International Development Secretary Priti Patel, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that the plan fails “by any reasonable standard” to reflect the result of the 2016 EU referendum or to “provide for our future economic prosperity.”

“Our negotiating advantages are meaningless without leadership brave enough for the task,” wrote Patel, often touted in the U.K. press as a potential contender in any future leadership contest to succeed May. The vote for change represented by the result “takes political courage, the kind of courage that appears to have been lacking over the past two years.”

Another Tory with ambitions to succeed May, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, is debating either addressing a rally for Brexit or setting up an organization to promote his leadership credentials in September, the Sunday Times reported. Johnson’s popularity among the party grassroots has risen since he quit May’s cabinet last month because he rejected her Brexit White Paper.

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