March 8, 2018 / 11:40 AM / a year ago

Punishing UK for Brexit is 'language of a gang' - trade minister Fox

FILE PHOTO - Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary, gives a speech at the Bloomberg offices in London, Britain, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Summers

LONDON (Reuters) - Any suggestion from the European Union that Britain should be punished for leaving would turn it into a “gang”, not a voluntary club of nations, and goes against the interests of EU member states, trade minister Liam Fox said on Thursday.

European leaders should realise that the competitiveness of the continent as a whole would be damaged by an approach that focused on taking a tough line on Britain in Brexit talks, Fox said.

But it was unclear whether the EU would take a pragmatic approach, he told the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce.

“That is largely dependent on the balance between the political ideology of an ever closer union that sees Britain’s exit set an example to others that it is painful,” he said.

“The idea of punishing Britain to me is not the language of a club, it is the language a gang.”

EU negotiators have repeatedly stressed that punishment is not a motivation in Brexit talks.

On Wednesday, the EU offered Britain a free trade agreement for their post-Brexit relationship that fell well short of ambitions set out by Prime Minister Theresa May last week, notably for the key financial sector.

Donald Tusk, chairman of EU leaders, said Brexit would cause Britain and the EU to drift apart, contrasting sharply with May’s call for future trade to be as “frictionless as possible”.

Reporting by David Milliken and Andrew MacAskill, editing by Stephen Addison

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