Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox met with two neoconservative think tanks during his first trip to the United States after this summer’s general election, DeSmog UK can reveal.
According to documents obtained by DeSmog UK via the Freedom of Information Act, Fox held a breakfast meeting with think tanks and business associations in Washington D.C. during his trip on 19-20 June.
In attendance was the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation – both influential think tanks backed by corporations and conservative foundations. Both are avid opponents of environmental regulations and have repeatedly denied the science on climate change. Heritage was also at the heart of Donald Trump's transition team in the weeks before he became president.
As the diplomatic telegram summarising Fox’s trip states, the trade secretary “invited views on the Administration's approach to trade policy and the UK and US relationship.”
All other information about the meeting was redacted due to the information being related to government policy-making. No other information was provided about who else was in attendance at the breakfast.
The news comes as a new pro-Brexit free trade think tank was launched in London on Wednesday 27 September by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with climate denying Tory MEP Daniel Hannan as its president.
Both the Heritage Foundation and the AEI failed to respond to requests for comment on the breakfast meeting.
When asked to comment on the breakfast meeting, Fox's relationship with the think tanks and their involvement in establishing a new trade deal, a spokesperson from the UK Department for International Trade spoke generally about the ongoing trade negotiations, stating that the “immediate priority” is to continue “providing commercial continuity for US and UK businesses as the UK leaves the EU, and begin to lay the groundwork for potential negotiations on an ambitious free trade agreement.”
Currently, under the EU, Britain has stricter trade rules and regulations than the US. Think tanks such as Heritage and AEI, want these “regulatory hurdles” to be removed.
Many fear, however, that if regulations are cut or weakened in the process of negotiating a trade deal, important safe guards for health, food and the environment will be removed in favour of big business.
This isn’t the first time that Fox has met with the Heritage Foundation while in his role as trade secretary.
Last November, DeSmog UK revealed that during his first trip to the United States, less than two weeks after being appointed International Trade Secretary following the Brexit referendum, Fox took the opportunity to have lunch with over a dozen of the think tank's staff members including its president and former Tea Partier Jim DeMint.
Fox’s relationship with the think tank dates back to his time as UK Defence Secretary over six years ago.
During that time and up until 2011, Fox was the founder and UK chairman of the now defunct Atlantic Bridge – a think tank that brought together right-wing libertarians from both sides of the pond. Among the group’s membership was Jim DeMint. Fox’s former special advisor, Luke Coffey, now also works at the think tank.
Fox’s June breakfast meeting marks a pattern of US neocon think tanks working with pro-Brexit politicians and organisations on policy matters.
As DeSmog UK has previously documented, there is a close-knit network of cross-Atlantic groups which dismiss the science on climate change and push for limited government and less regulation, whether it’s on the environment, trade, or Brexit in general.
The Heritage Foundation, for example, has campaigned for Brexit over the past few years and hosted climate denying Brexit campaigners Nigel Farage and Owen Paterson during the lead up to the June 2016 vote.
Following that, at last year’s Conservative Party Conference, the Heritage Foundation, along with another US think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (which counts climate science denying Myron Ebell among its directors) teamed up with British conservative campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance to call for “freer trade”. At the event one Heritage Foundation member mocked UK climate policy saying he didn’t “really see the point” in it.
Meanwhile, British politicians also continue to associate with the AEI. According to UK conservationist Miles King, Michael Gove, currently the UK environment secretary, Brexit campaigner, and former member of Fox’s Atlantic Bridge, has spoken at the AEI’s global forum in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017 – in 2012, he spoke alongside Fox and now Brexit secretary David Davis.
Capitol Hill Meetings
While in D.C., Fox also made the rounds on Capitol Hill to discuss trade with a senators and members of congress.
As the documents describe, in each meeting, Fox “highlighted the depth of the existing UK-US commercial relationship, his objectives for UK trade policy and our desire to build on these as we left the EU.”
Fox also met with Republican Representative George Holding, who sits on President Trump’s subcommittee on trade.
In a statement to DeSmog UK, Holding said: “My meeting with International Trade Secretary Fox was very positive. It's my belief, and one I think many other members share, that a new U.S-U.K. free trade agreement would be a priority for Congress following Britain's exit from the E.U.
“I think we would start by looking at places where both countries could benefit by leveling the playing field in areas like agriculture and financial services, to name a few.”
Agriculture trade policy continues to make headlines – with the EU imposing stricter standards on issues from animal welfare to the use of pesticides and other chemicals many are worried that with a US-UK trade deal, rules on safety and health standards will be rolled-back.
Republican Senator Bob Corker also met with Fox. Corker has a history of voting against clean energy policy and environmental regulations. The last Republican Fox met with was representative Joe Wilson. Wilson, too has been known to criticise climate action.
Finally, Fox met with just one Democrat, California Representative Doris Matsui, who was one of 14 members of Congress who signed a letter earlier this year urging former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to push for more climate action as U.S. Secretary of State.
Photo: World Trade Organization via Flickr | CC2.0