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Liam Fox attacks 'black propaganda' of bad news over Brexit

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Britain's secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo

UK international trade secretary Liam Fox has claimed opponents of Brexit are promoting “black propaganda” in a bid to undermine the result of the EU referendum.

The cabinet minister went on the offensive as he was forced to deny his own department had put out “fake news” while giving evidence to a committee of MPs on Wednesday.

Labour MP Chris Leslie, a member of the backbench trade committee, accused the department for international trade of “overspinning” and “not being realistic” with its figures on UK trade.

Fox refused to apologise after his department claimed in 2017 that the UK had received £16bn of investment since the referendum, but reportedly included projects agreed to before the vote.

“The more good news we give to the public the better that counters some of the black propaganda from those who want to undermine the referendum,” Fox said, aswering questions in front of parliament’s international trade committee on Wednesday.

Businesses and experts have issued countless warnings about the damage to UK firms and jobs being caused by Brexit uncertainty, as well as the potentially catastrophic consequences of leaving without a deal.

Fox blamed “mixed messages” from parliament when asked about Canada’s reported refusal to “roll over” its trade deal with Britain in a no-deal scenario.

Fox also pledged that the NHS would not be opened up to foreign firms “on my watch” in any future trade deal with other countries, after coming under heavy pressure to clarify his stance from MPs.

He agreed when one MP asked him to confirm unequivocally that the NHS was “off limits,” stating, “As the person who’ll be in charge of negotiating that, it would not be happening on my watch.”

Fox said earlier in the session he would “endeavour” and “expect” to never sacrifice the government’s right to regulate its public services in trade negotiations.

READ MORE: Mark Carney warns trade tensions could ‘shipwreck the global economy’

Fox added that claims the NHS had been at risk from previous EU trade talks with the US were an “urban myth” that was “on a par with alligators in the sewers.”

He also made clear any new future trade deals would be “subject to parliamentary approval.”

Fox was asked by Leslie to admit many trade agreements the UK had planned with small countries around the world “can’t substitute” for EU trade.

“No one has said it’s a substitute. It’s about how we go about increasing our global trade,” Fox replied.

A team of UK officials will head to the US next week to “scope out” a future trade agreement, he said.

The minister also raised eyebrows by suggesting Britain’s no-deal strategy for operating under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules reduced the chances of “creating any turbulance whatsoever” in the UK’s global trade.

READ MORE: ‘Preparing for crisis’: Ex-HMRC border chief on no-deal Brexit