Senior Tory MP tells conference: 'Any one of you could become a trade negotiator'

LONDON — Britons have no need to worry about the UK’s lack of trade negotiators dedicated to dealing with Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, because any intelligent person can do the job, a senior Conservative party MP said.

Speaking on a panel at the Bloomberg UK Investment Day on Monday, John Redwood MP — who is also the chief global strategist at asset management firm Charles Stanley — said that fears Britain won’t be able to successfully complete trade deals because of a shortage of staff are being overblown.

Redwood then told an audience of bankers, asset managers, economists, and a handful of journalists: “Any one of you could become a trade negotiator. It wouldn’t be too difficult.”

Redwood, who served in several ministerial positions during John Major’s premiership, was addressing the suggestion that Whitehall, and particularly Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade (DIT), is woefully understaffed when it comes to having enough negotiators to successfully navigate Brexit. DIT is also struggling to attract talent, according to some reports.

Trade specialists are reportedly reluctant to join the civil service and help negotiate Brexit because there is an alleged widely-shared consensus that Theresa May’s government is a shambles, and is yet to formulate a clear plan

In particular, trade experts are deterred by the prospect of a hard Brexit, an approach which they believe would see controlling inward migration prioritised over access to the EU’s Single Market. A set of notes carried by an aide to MP Mark Field photographed on Monday seemed to confirm that Britain won’t retain single market membership.

During his appearance, Redwood — who strongly favoured Brexit — also tried to put aside fears about the complexities of individual trade deals and how long they will take, saying that: “Doing a trade deal is no more or less difficult than most other things in government.”
Redwood’s comment goes against recent evidence however. CETA, the trade deal recently struck between the EU and Canada has so far taken seven years, and is yet to be formally completed, while negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — a major trade deal between the USA and Europe — was first discussed in 2013, and is not expected to be finished until at least 2020.
Earlier at the Bloomberg conference, trade minister Greg Hands
said that people are becoming too “obsessive” about Britain’s ability to sign free trade agreements with other nations post-Brexit.

Emphasis should instead be placed on “resetting” the country’s trading relationship with the world, Hands added.

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