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12 October 2017

Dr Liam Fox convenes a new Dr Liam Fox to fix Brexit

What is wrong with these people?

By Jonn Elledge

You know, there are some people out there – bad, mean, cynical people, the sort of remoaning saboteurs who wouldn’t recognise national sovereignty if it bit them on the bollocks – who would have you believe that Brexit wasn’t going very well.

Those same people are often to be found pointing out that International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox doesn’t really have a job, as such, since the UK is not allowed to even begin negotiating its own free trade deals until it actually leaves the European Union – and that thus the entire Department for International Trade is less a useful government department and more a make work scheme for the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox.

Those people are wrong. Because today, DIT – which is a terrible acronym, but which I’m going to use anyway because it sounds funny – released a press release.

International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox convenes a new Board of Trade to ensure the benefits of free trade are spread throughout the UK

Dr Liam Fox will convene a new Board of Trade which will bring together prominent business and political figures from each part of the UK

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The new Board of Trade will bring together prominent figures from business and politics from each part of the UK, including representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

You see, whingers? He’s not just poncing about in a ministerial car, generally sucking up oxygen – he’s doing something useful. He’s ensuring the benefits of free trade are being spread throughout the UK. What have you done for Britain today, you traitor?

There are two things about this press release that are very, very funny. One is that it refers to the international trade secretary as “Dr Liam Fox” throughout, to make sure that we are very, very clear he’s a doctor. There’s probably a protocol reason for that, but I like to imagine Fox leaning over some poor press officer insisting, in an attempt to reassure both us and himself that, whatever he may or may not be doing at the moment, Dr Liam Fox is a useful member of society who has actually valuable skills.

The even funnier thing is this bit:

The only member is:

(i)        Secretary of State for Department of International Trade and President of the Board of Trade (Chair)

So for all the talk of bringing together leaders from the four corners of the UK, the entirety of this new Board of Trade consists of Dr Liam Fox. Who will now get on with promoting trade, on his own, which was already his job. Dr Liam Fox has convened a board consisting entirely of himself. He is a board, now. Can one man even be a board? Isn’t that more of a splinter? Or at best, a plank?

This has been causing much hilarity on the internet this afternoon. The BBC Brexit researcher Joey D’Urso went as far as to call the press office to check it was right, before tweeting:

Just rang dept. Confirm Liam Fox only “official member” but it’s not “just Liam Fox sitting in a room on his own”.

Then, in an act that’s far funnier than anything I’m ever going to come up with even if I stare at this screen until my forehead bleeds, he went through the press release, changing all references to the “Board of Trade” to the still factually accurate “Dr Liam Fox”:

As it happens, the problem is that the new Board of Trade is a committee of the Privy Council, which means that only Privy Councillors can be official members. Most of those involved with it are not Privy Councillors, so can only be listed as advisers to, rather than members of, the board. See? It’s all very sensible and not in any way ridiculous at all.

Nonetheless, it means that, to put rocket boosters under the British economy at this time of national crisis, Dr Liam Fox’s solution was to turn to Dr Liam Fox, to ask if Dr Liam Fox had any ideas. Despite being an incredibly busy man, Dr Liam Fox was kind enough to agree. We are blessed. Truly, this country is blessed.

In 2011, Dr Liam Fox was forced to resign as defence secretary in disgrace after an investigation conducted by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell found that his blurring of the lines between his official role and personal friendships and “posted a degree of security risk not only to Dr Fox, but also to the accompanying official party.” He is 56 years old.