If one man had to be selected to symbolise the disconnect between the belief of right-leaning pundits and hard reality, that man would be Liam Fox. Lauded by the likes of Conservative Home, many MPs on the right of his own party, and a string of equally clueless pundits, Fox is not just someone whose previous disgrace makes him unfit to even be an MP, he is ignorant to the point of national embarrassment.
Coming soon: it's goodnight from them
Liam Fox has been appointed Secretary of State for International Trade by new PM Theresa May. One might therefore expect that he would be able to muster sufficient knowledge of that subject to be able to speak coherently on it, even if only to yield sufficient soundbites to satisfy the press corps and not insert foot in mouth when so doing. Sadly, though, this straightforward task has proved beyond him.
This week’s events should prove instructive to all those prepared to judge Fox on the available evidence, rather than talking up his every utterance. Typical was his announcement that the UK would set up its first USA trade office in the state of North Carolina, an area that has faced protests and trade boycotts over a new law aimed at transgender people. PepsiCo and GE have since avoided the place.
Not only did Fox apparently blunder into this faux pas, he managed to get the Labour Party some press attention into the bargain, as leadership challenger Owen Smith called him out for his poor judgment - or maybe lack of it. Still, there was always Fox’s demand that Ms May take the UK out of the EU customs union. That would restore his reputation, wouldn’t it? Well, no: Chancellor Philip Hammond is not going to buy that one any time soon.
It gets worse. Fox had also proposed a free trade deal with the USA: “The US has rebuffed attempts by Liam Fox to open negotiations on a free trade deal, saying that ‘meaningful’ talks before Brexit were impossible … Dr Fox, the international trade secretary, who is on a three-day charm offensive in the US, later had comments he made on a possible trading agreement with the EU ‘clarified’ by No 10” reported the Times.
But it is his comment that, while withdrawing from the EU customs union, the UK “would probably seek to enter a free-trade agreement with the EU” instead. That is code for “he doesn’t have the first idea what he’s talking about”. Fox can have had no complaints about being stitched up by the rotten lefty media: his comments came in an interview for the Murdoch Wall Street Journal. He won’t get a more sympathetic platform.
Then he gave a speech in Chicago: “Promising there would be no backtracking on the UK referendum decision, he outlined a vision of the UK negotiating a phalanx of bilateral free trade deals”. Ri-i-ight. Backtracking will not be down to him - Ms May will see to that - and negotiating “bilateral free trade deals” will need someone to negotiate that. We don’t have any trade negotiators in Whitehall right now.
If Theresa May were setting up Brexit to fail, she could do no better than let Liam Fox show the world that he is the most singularly inept Englishman abroad since Carlton-Browne of the FO. And he was a fictional character in a comedy film.