UK/EU trade post-Brexit should be at least as free as it is now: Fox

British students hold UK and European Union flags in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - It is in both Britain’s and the European Union’s interests for the trading environment between both parties to be at least as free as it is now after Britain exits the bloc, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said on Thursday.

“Protectionism never actually helps anybody at all and as we move into a post-Brexit arena we want it to be as free and as open as possible,” he told an audience in Manchester, northern England.

“The European Union has a massive surplus in goods with the UK. Who does it harm more if we end up in a new tariff environment?” said Fox.

“It is in everybody’s interests that as we move forward we have at least as free a trading environment as we have today. Anything else may not harm politicians and institutions but it will harm the people of Europe.”

Asked by a reporter about the prospects for trade with Iran following its landmark deal with foreign powers about its nuclear program, Fox said: “Iran presents us with a very large market opportunity. It will be a very large market of consumers.”

He added there were specific problems regarding trade with Iran, mentioning the banking system, but he saw Iran as a “huge opportunity”.

Reporting by Kylie Maclellan and Michael Holden, writing by Estelle Shirbon