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Chief UK trade advisor angry with Theresa May’s Brexit deal

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Crawford Falconer
Crawford Falconer, UK
Chief Trade Negotiation Adviser.

Ross
Setford/Getty Images


  • Exclusive: The UK government’s top trade advisor has
    privately expressed his anger with the draft Brexit deal,
    according to multiple well-placed sources.
  • Crawford Falconer, who was appointed to negotiate free
    trade deals with Trade Secretary Liam Fox, is unhappy with
    Theresa May’s plan to keep the UK in a customs union with the
    UK for years after exit day.
  • Foreign officials believe he could quit the UK
    Department For International Trade “any day.”
  • “If we’re stuck in the Customs Union and forced to
    follow EU regulations, his role is basically superfluous,” a
    friend of Crawford told Business Insider.
  • Government sources deny suggestions that Falconer is
    planning to quit.

 

LONDON — The UK’s chief trade negotiator has privately expressed
frustration with the Brexit withdrawal deal amid rumours that he
is on the verge of quitting his role in the Department for
International Trade.

Crawford Falconer, who was appointed to work alongside Trade
Secretary Liam Fox on post-Brexit trade deals, could resign as
chief trade negotiations advisor “any day,” according to foreign
officials who work closely with him.

Sources close to Falconer denied suggestions that he was planning
to resign.

However, Falconer, who joined DIT in June 2017, has become
increasingly frustrated with the direction of Brexit talks,
particularly plans for the UK to be wedded to EU customs
arrangements for years after exit day, multiple sources have told
Business Insider.

A source at the department told BI: “He more or less came out of
retirement for professional interest in hashing out trade deals.
If the meatier parts of that job might have to wait until 2022,
would someone in that position want to hang around?”

In October, Crawford told The Telegraph that his
job would be redundant if the UK didn’t have a fully independent
trade policy after completing its departure from the European
Union.

Under the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will stay in the
customs union for a transition period lasting at least 21-months
and remain tied to EU customs rules until a UK-EU trade deal
which preserves the frictionless Irish border is ready to be
implemented. Figures involved in negotiations believe could take
several years.

A
report earlier this year
suggested that Falconer, who is
described by insiders as “highly opinionated, had his role
“marginalised” by Downing Street in the Brexit talks. Before
joining DIT, he was Special Trade Commissioner for the Legatum
Institute think tank and held roles in international trade
including New Zealand’s Chief Negotiator.

Insiders at the department told BI that Falconer has been close
to resigning “several times” this year, including when May
revealed her plan for a “common rule book” with the European
Union as part of her Chequers proposals.

Falconer is angry with the prime minister’s decision to keep the
UK in a customs union with the EU during the transition period
and potentially beyond, as it will limit DIT’s ability to sign
new trade deals, insiders claim.

“He certainly isn’t doing the role for the pay,” a friend of
Crawford told BI.

“He took it up because there aren’t many opportunities to set up
an independent trade policy for a western country. If we’re stuck
in the Customs Union and forced to follow EU regulations, his
role is basically superfluous.”

A source close to Falconer stressed that the UK will be able to
sign trade deals in the areas of services and investment during
this period of time. However, the UK will be limited in other
areas as long as it remains tied to EU rules.


Liam Fox
Trade Secretary Liam
Fox.

Leon Neal/Getty
Images


A spokesperson for the Department of International Trade told
Business Insider: “The Prime Minister has been clear that once we
leave the EU, we will have the ability to negotiate new free
trade agreements with the rest of the world.

“We are already laying the groundwork for negotiations with the
US, Australia and New Zealand and we will set out our negotiating
objectives before formal trade talks begin.”

Tom Brake, Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson and supporter of
anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, said: “The PMs deal makes it
as clear as spring water that there hasn’t been, and probably
never will be, a purpose to the DIT.

“It would hardly be surprising in the circumstances if people
chose to walk.”

Fox has decided to stay in May’s Cabinet and push for changes to
the Withdrawal Agreement rather than resign like ex-Brexit
Secretary Dominic Raab and former Work & Pensions Secretary
Esther McVey.

Last week, Fox urged pro-Brexit MPs who dislike the draft deal to
stay loyal to the prime minister, stating: “We aren’t elected to
do what we want. We are elected to do what’s in the national
interest.”

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