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Liam Fox ridiculed for being only member of new UK board of trade

Liam Fox
Liam Fox said the board would have advisers acting as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the business community. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

A new board of trade unveiled by the government has been met with derision after it was revealed that the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, is the only official member.

Announcing the board on Thursday, the Department for International Trade said it would “ensure the benefits of free trade are spread throughout the UK”, naming more than a dozen advisers to the body including former ministers and business leaders.

However, the DIT announcement said Fox was the only official member of the board and would be its chair. “Membership of the board of trade is restricted to privy councillors,” the department said.

“The only member is: (i) secretary of state for Department of International Trade and president of the board of trade (chair).”

Advisers to the board include Collette Roche, the chief of staff at Manchester airport, the former Labour minister Patricia Hewitt, who was president of the board of trade under Tony Blair, and Ian Curle, the chief executive of the Edrington Group, a Scottish spirits company that produces the whisky brand The Famous Grouse.

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, said the board was a “job-creation scheme” for Fox.

“The secretary of state, no doubt embarrassed by his lack of a real role in government beyond accumulating millions of air miles, has had to invent a grandiose title for himself,” he said.

“It will convince nobody. The signing of the first trade deals are years away, whereas the damage to our existing largest trade deal, with the EU, is happening now.”

James McGrory, the executive director of the pro-Europe Open Britain campaign, said: “I hope that at the inaugural meeting of the new board of trade, Liam Fox managed to have positive and constructive discussions with Liam Fox, after hearing expert analysis by Dr Liam Fox on the impact of Brexit.

“Britain’s trade policy is just the sound of one hand clapping. It would be funny in another context, but not when the government is justifying its decision to damage our trade by leaving the customs union on a mirage of future trade deals.

A DIT spokesman said it was a “technicality” that Fox was the sole member of the board, because of a constitutional convention that full membership is only for privy counsellors.

“That is why we are drawing on prominent figures from business and politics across the country and not just restricting to privy counsellors, as happened in the past,” he said.

A departmental source said advisers would in effect be members and appointed for a year each, with the option to extend for a further two years.

In a statement announcing the board at its first meeting at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Fox said advisers would act as “the ‘eyes and ears’ of the modern business community”.

The board will meet four times a year, which he said would guarantee that all parts of the UK have an opportunity to participate. The cabinet’s Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland secretaries are also listed as advisers to the board.

This article titled "Liam Fox ridiculed for being only member of new UK board of trade" was written by Jessica Elgot Political reporter, for theguardian.com on Thursday 12 October 2017 02.26pm

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