Liam Fox has warned his officials not to use the term “Empire 2.0” to describe his department’s efforts to build stronger trading links with Commonwealth countries.
The international trade secretary met ministers from more than 30 countries that used to be part of the British Empire in London last week to discuss boosting economic ties.
Ahead of the summit, The Times reported that Whitehall officials sceptical about the attempt to had branded it “Empire 2.0”.
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But Fox hit out at the characterisation over the weekend, telling Sky News: “That’s not a phrase I would ever allow them [civil servants] to use.
“It’s a phrase I find slightly offensively caricaturing. So it’s not a phrase I would use.”
He added that it was right for the UK to have a “proper global view” as it leaves the European Union.
In his speech at the summit, Fox said the “rapid economic development” of some Commonwealth nations opened up new opportunities for mutually advantageous trade links.
“This represents not only a great opportunity for their citizens to share in the proceeds of global prosperity, but it represents tremendous opportunities to importers and exporters from across the whole Commonwealth, a genuinely win-win situation,” he said.
Brexit bill progress
Fox's warning comes as the government prepares for its Brexit bill – allowing Theresa May to formally trigger talks on the UK's EU departure – to overcome its final parliamentary hurdles.
The Commons will vote on Monday afternoon on whether to overturn two amendments that were added to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Lords.
MPs are expected to reject both changes, which relate to the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK and the nature of the vote parliament will have on the final terms of the Brexit deal.
Labour will support both amendments, and Jeremy Corbyn is set to address a rally outside of parliament this evening in support of EU citizens’ rights.
Once the MPs have made their decision, the bill returns to the House of Lords, where peers will decide whether to pass further amendments and send it back to the Commons or to approve the version sent to them.
The Labour leadership in the House of Lords has indicated it is likely to allow the bill to pass.
The bill then receives royal assent, at which point May will have the legal authority to trigger Article 50 when she chooses and set the clock ticking on the two-year negotiating window for leaving the EU.