Brexit Talks Show Continuing Divide Between U.K., EU Lawmakers
By Jason Douglas in Manchester, England and Laurence Norman in Brussels
British government ministers on Tuesday presented an upbeat picture of the U.K.'s prospects outside the European Union, as European lawmakers said too little headway had been made in Brexit talks to allow discussions to begin on a future trade deal with the U.K.
The contrast reflects the continuing divisions between London and Brussels over the terms of Britain's divorce from the bloc ahead of a critical juncture later this month, when European leaders are due to decide whether negotiators can move to discussions over trade and other relations between the EU and U.K. post-Brexit.
Addressing party members and activists at the ruling Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester, England, U.K. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox offered an optimistic vision of a post-Brexit Britain forging new trading partnerships across the world.
Mr. Fox said discussions on trade with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand have already begun, and delighted the party rank-and-file by saying those "naysayers" who predicted last year's Brexit vote would be followed by economic turmoil "got it wrong."
"When people ask if I'm a glass half-full or half-empty man, I just tell them that I'm Scottish and the glass isn't big enough," Mr. Fox said.
Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary and a favorite among party members, in the closing speech of the day, described Brexit as "a democratic revolution" that will usher in "a cultural and technological and commercial renaissance" in Britain.
David Davis, Brexit Secretary, pledged to fight demands for money from Brussels to settle unpaid commitments to the bloc "line by line," though he acknowledged that Brexit talks are complex and that "one error could cost the taxpayer billions of pounds."
He, too, played up the U.K.'s post-Brexit prospects, saying he is optimistic about reaching a deal with the EU, but reiterated the government's position that Britain is willing to walk away from talks without agreement if one can't be reached.