UK Politics

Tory leadership: Liam Fox backs EU exit by 2019

Liam Fox
Image caption Mr Fox said all the candidates should be "crystal clear" about their plans for leaving the EU

The UK should leave the EU on 1 January 2019, Conservative leadership candidate Liam Fox has said.

Mr Fox said official negotiations should begin this year, warning that momentum cannot be lost "by stealth or the ideological rigidity" of Brussels.

Free movement must end or this would be a "betrayal" of the Brexit vote.

As a former defence secretary, Mr Fox said he had sat round the table with world leaders and had the "necessary breadth of experience" to do the job.

Mr Fox is one of five candidates, alongside Theresa May, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Stephen Crabb, in the race to succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader and prime minister.

The first ballot of Tory MPs takes place on Tuesday, with the eventual outcome due on 9 September.

Brexit slippage

Launching his leadership bid, Mr Fox - who campaigned for the UK to leave the EU - said he believed the process of exiting the EU could be concluded in about two years and he urged his rivals to be equally "explicit" about the deadline for leaving to prevent any slippage.

"We cannot have a contest where doubts about the exit process remain among my colleagues and the public," he said.

Insisting politicians should not "second-guess or water down" the UK's decision to leave the EU, he said there was no justification for the UK remaining in the single market and therefore having to accept unrestricted EU immigration.

"If the price of the relationship with the single market is free movement of people, it's a price I'm not willing to pay. I believe the British people have made their view very clear. It is not for politicians to water it down or second guess it," he said.

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Home Secretary Theresa May: The 59-year-old has replaced Boris Johnson as the bookies' favourite to win the contest. She's held the Home Office brief - often something of a poisoned chalice - since 2010, and is a former Tory party chairman. She says she can offer the "strong leadership" and unity the UK needs, and promised a "positive vision" for the country's future. She backed staying in the EU. Theresa May profile

Justice Secretary Michael Gove: The 48-year-old former newspaper columnist was a key figure in the party's modernisation that led to its return to power in 2010. He was a reforming, if controversial, education secretary between 2010 and 2014, and now holds the Ministry of Justice brief. He was a leading player in the Brexit campaign - which put a strain on his close friendship with David Cameron. He has pitched himself as the candidate that can provide "unity and change". Michael Gove profile

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb: The 43-year-old was promoted to the cabinet in 2014 as Welsh secretary, and boosted his profile earlier this year when he took over as work and pensions secretary. A rising star of the Tory party he has promised to unite the party and country following the referendum result and provide stability. Raised on a council estate by a single mother, he has a back story to which many Tory MPs are attracted. Backed Remain. Stephen Crabb profile

Energy minister Andrea Leadsom: The 53-year-old former banker and fund manager was one of the stars of the Leave campaign. A former district councillor, she became MP for South Northamptonshire in 2010 and - after serving as a junior Treasury minister and as a member of the Treasury select committee - she was made a junior minister in the energy and climate change department in May last year. Andrea Leadsom profile

Former cabinet minister Liam Fox: It's second time around for the 54-year-old ex-defence secretary and GP, who came a close third in the 2005 leadership contest. His cabinet career was cut short in 2011 when he resigned following a lobbying row. A Brexit campaigner, and on the right of the party, he has said whoever becomes PM must accept "the instruction" of the British people and not "try to backslide" over EU membership. Liam Fox profile

Mr Fox also said that he would seek an agreement where EU citizens currently living in the UK would be granted "full rights to remain".

"I would like to see rules apply to future movement, not to those who are currently here and I think that removing the element of fear that I'm afraid the Remain campaign encouraged during the referendum would be a very positive thing."

However he said that would be part of a mutual agreement, allowing British citizens living on the Continent to remain as well.

Mr Fox said the UK's future outside the EU and the single market was an "optimistic" one, citing the reputation of UK contract law, its benign industrial relations, competitive taxation regime and the attraction of the English language as factors likely to encourage employers to continue to invest and trade.

'Use it or lose it'

In his speech, Mr Fox - who also stood for the leadership in 2005 - said national security would be his number one priority while housing and health would also be key planks of any government he would lead.

He called for a "use it or lose it" clause on developers to require building with a certain period and infrastructure audits to determine the impact that new developments would have on school places and the availability of GP appointments.

Mr Fox, who was a doctor before entering Parliament in 1992, urged an end to structural re-organisation within the health service, saying there should be "more medicine and less management" in the NHS.

Who's backing who?

He suggested he was the only candidate in the field who combined a long-standing passion for Brexit with top level cabinet experience, saying he had "sat round a table" with President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He also called for Heathrow expansion to be given the green light and said the government's deficit reduction strategy needed to be intensified, suggesting it was "convenient" for the Treasury to use Brexit to drop its fiscal rule targets.

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