Kate Andrews Kate Andrews

Fox trot: Liam Fox’s plan for a free trade revolution

(Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

I meet Liam Fox at a tavern on St Martins Lane. It’s spitting with rain outside the pub, covered in wood panelling floor-to-ceiling and eclectic memorabilia on every wall. We’re amongst just a handful of patrons, surrounded by empty tables spread out in accordance with social distancing guidelines. ‘People will say in my own constituency that they’re operating at about 40 per cent capacity’, Fox mentions when we’re talking about the prospects of a V-shaped recovery. He’s not optimistic: ‘It’s really hard to say… maybe is the answer’. 

It’s a Sunday afternoon, but it’s clear the Rt Hon MP for North Somerset isn’t distinguishing between weekdays and weekends right now: between dealing with Covid concerns at home and campaigning to be the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation — the global international body that sets the rules for trade between countries — Fox’s days aren’t measured by the working week, but rather by the series of deadlines for the nominees.

He has just made it into the second round of the contest, alongside Nigeria’s appointee, economist and former finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Kenya’s appointee, lawyer and diplomat Ms Amina C Mohamed. WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo stepped down from the post earlier this month, leaving the organisation temporarily leaderless during the largest economic crisis the 25-year-old trade body has faced. The disastrous impact of Covid-19, combined with trade wars brewing around the world, has piled further pressure onto the next director-general, but that hasn’t put Fox off. When I ask him why he thinks he’s the UK’s nominee, he’s abundantly clear: ‘I wanted it the most.’

In trying to single out what separates Fox from the other nominees, he puts emphasis on his status as an elected politician: ‘Whoever gets the job will have to have some fairly difficult conversations. I’ve already met and had dinner with President Xi, I’ve met President Trump several times when he was in Britain.

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