Somewhere, in a galaxy a long, long way from Earth, there may be a planet on which the pronouncements of Liam Fox make sense to someone other than himself. Maybe he even came from there and is merely struggling to escape the linguistic and political norms of his home world. As explanations go, it may sound incredible, but it’s probably less incredible than trying to square his words with the norms of this planet.
Take this gem from his speech in Cardiff: “We want to realise a new relationship with Europe, based on free trade and prosperity." Obviously, that is a relationship which is different to the one we currently have, which is based on working together to ensure … er … free trade and prosperity. A relationship which he and others told us we should opt out of.
Or this one: "We know that when we leave the EU, we will not have an EU commissioner, MEPs or a seat at the European Council. That is a political decision that we have consciously taken following the instruction from the British people at the referendum. It is a political response to a political decision. But it would surely be wholly inappropriate if our political decision was to be met with an economic response…”. Only on another planet could taking a deliberate decision not to be involved in setting the rules governing the operation of a free trade area be seen as a solely political decision, and nothing to do with economics at all.
But perhaps the best bit of all is his claim that if “…barriers to trade and investment were introduced across Europe, that would damage the economic potential of all European citizens and those well beyond Europe too [and] would ultimately be self-defeating ...”. At least, on this one, I can agree with him, in principle at least. After all, the idea that introducing barriers to trade and investment might just possibly be economically damaging was, as I recall, fairly central to the arguments of those campaigning against Brexit. But just remind me a moment – whose decision was it to opt out of membership of the organisation which was trying to guarantee that there would be no such barriers? To read his words, once could almost believe that it was those 27 wicked European states which had conspired together to expel the UK rather than the UK taking a conscious (albeit misinformed) decision to opt out. (Although I’m not sure that I’d really blame them if they had considered an expulsion…)
Like so much which comes from the Brexiteers, much of what he says is ultimately a demand for more British exceptionalism; for the right to enjoy more of the privileges of club membership than the members themselves whilst rejecting the club’s rules and declining to pay a membership fee. And it’s all done without a touch of irony or self-awareness, and an assumption that everyone else will fall into line. I’m not normally one for repatriating immigrants, but in his case, I am wondering if his home planet would consider taking him back?