Trade experts are worried that the UK government is being “left behind” when it comes to recruiting the expertise required to negotiate Britain’s post-Brexit trade deals.
A host of industry experts told The Times newspaper that Britain doesn’t look anywhere near to being ready to enter negotiations, which are set to begin in March as soon as Article 50 is triggered.
“My impression is they’re not [recruiting],” an unnamed seasoned negotiator told the paper.
“It’s worrying because the first thing you need to do is set up a competent, experienced team. I don’t believe that’s happening. They seem to think they can find experts when the negotiations start.”
Prior to the June referendum, Britain’s trade policy was handled mainly in Brussels, meaning there was a limited number of experts in Whitehall when Brits voted for Brexit. Now the government is in a race to hire high quantities of quality negotiators before March arrives.
CETA, the free-trade deal between the EU and Canada, was finally completed last week after seven years of negotiations and much delay. Wallonia, a region of Belgium, had used its federal powers to block the deal’s passage until the region’s concerns were addressed. This delay happened because the EU requires all trade deals to be ratified by the parliaments of all member states and Belgium’s system means that regional parliaments have to be consulted too.
The difficult passage of CETA demonstrates just how hard it could be for Britain to get a trade deal done with the EU once Britain officially leaves and underlines the importance of having good negotiators at the table.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has been charged with the task of recruiting hundreds of negotiators to take on the almighty task of creating brand new trade relationships with the EU and other nations once Britain is no longer part of the 28-nation bloc.
Fox told colleagues last week that Britain could avoid negotiating a trade deal with the EU that required unanimous ratification by striking a deal within the 2-year negotiation period, which gets underway once Article 50 is invoked.
He told MPs: “So it’s in the interests, quite clearly, following this experience [CETA], for all concerned to minimise any sort of economic, trade and political disruption, to ensure that’s done with the minimum of fuss and it’s done through that QMV process by council, rather than being negotiated from outside as CETA was done.”
By finalising a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU before actually leaving, Fox added, the deal could be pushed through European Council on a qualified majority basis, which would be much easier to achieve compared to trying to secure the approval of every member state.
However, trade experts are sceptical that UK government will even have the negotiators in place to work out a deal within the 2-year period.”This pool is rapidly dwindling,” David Archer, director of recruitment company Circle Square, told the Times. “We are on the verge of being left behind in a war for talent.”
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