The European Union (EU) could sue the UK, attempting to stop Britain forming trade links with major nations before it has fully left the block, the government has been warned.
Legal advice given to the new International Trade Secretary Liam Fox insists the UK “cannot” negotiate free trade deals with nations already in talks with the EU until Brexit is complete.
The document leaked to the Sunday Times, says there is a “high risk” if the UK enters into talks with trading superpowers such as America, Canada, Japan, and Brazil, who are also in talks with the EU.
The EU has been trying and failing, to negotiate the widely despised Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States for years.
“The [European] Commission has argued that this [Brexit] means we cannot launch negotiations, bilaterally or at the World Trade Organisation”, reads the legal advice.
It warns that if the UK went ahead with trade negotiations the result could be “infraction proceedings brought by the European Commission” and “infringement actions by member states”, adding that “the legal consequences would be that the UK would be required to pay a fine”.
A spokeswoman for the Department for International Trade declined to confirm whether the legal advice received by Dr. Fox was an official government document.
She said: “We are not going to provide a running commentary on leaving the EU… As we have said, we will fully comply with our responsibilities and exercise our rights as a member of the EU.”
Dr. Fox and foreign secretary Boris Johnson are both keen on a hard Brexit and withdrawing from the European single market.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond has long argued the UK should remain in the single market, possibly accepting some EU rules and free movement of people. However, he is reported to be changing his mind.
According to Bloomberg, he now considers it unrealistic to retain membership of the single market whilst also restricting immigration as the Prime Minister has promised.
Instead, British officials are drawing up their own blueprint, which they hope will allow Britain’s financial services firms to retain access to Europe, it is reported.