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Monday, 7 August 2017

Politics: Former chief diplomat: Brexit talks have not 'begun particularly promisingly' for Britain

May EU

Brexit negotiations have not begun well because of "differences within the cabinet," a former head of the Foreign Office has said.

  • Former Foreign Office head Sir Simon Fraser: Brexit talks are being hindered by "differences" within Theresa May's cabinet.
  • Fraser joins a list of former diplomats who have expressed concern about the government's approach to Brexit.
  • Former EU Official Sir Michael Leigh tells BI the Tory approach to Brexit will be the most harmful government policy for over half a century.

LONDON — Brexit negotiations have not begun well because of "differences within the cabinet," a former head of the Foreign Office has said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour Sir Simon Fraser, the top civil servant at the Foreign Office until 2015, said that the UK had not "put much on the table" in negotiations so far.

"The negotiations have only just begun, I don't think they have begun particularly promisingly, frankly, on the British side," Fraser said.

"We haven't put forward a lot because, as we know, there are differences within the cabinet about the sort of Brexit that we are heading for and until those differences are further resolved I think it's very difficult for us to have a clear position."

Fraser's remarks echo the concerns of former senior civil servants who have said Prime Minister Theresa May has had a "wasted year" on Brexit amid Conservative infighting and a "failure of diplomacy."

The UK government has since the Brexit vote struggled to articulate a unified position on Brexit and in recent weeks has been embroiled in public fall outs over key aspects of Britain's departure, such as a transition period after leaving the European Union and the possibility of importing chlorinated chicken from the USA as part of a free trade deal.

A number of Eurosceptic Tory MPs have expressed fury over weekend reports that the UK was prepared to pay a £36 billion divorce bill to the EU.

Former top EU diplomat Steven Bullock told Business Insider that May's government is handling Brexit talks in the "absolute worst way" possible.

Another former British diplomat to the EU, Sir Michael Leigh, told BI: "The general impression is that Britain has not used the time since notification to prepare detailed negotiating positions. The main reason for that is division among Cabinet ministers as to the approach to be taken..."

Fraser said: "I think so far we haven't put much on the table apart from something on the status of nationals, so we are a bit absent from the formal negotiation.

"I think we need to demonstrate that we are ready to engage on the substance so that people can understand what is really at stake here and what the options are."

The government is expected to release position papers over the next few weeks on the future of the Irish border and the customs union.

Last week there were reports that the UK seems so badly prepared for negotiations that some EU diplomats are starting to believe that it must be some form of elaborate trap.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "While the clock is running down, key cabinet members are still squabbling over what type of Brexit to pursue. This shambolic approach is sharply increasing the risk of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, causing maximum damage to British jobs and families."



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