The civil service needs to demonstrate a greater degree of independence, and be adequately resourced to deal with Brexit, says John Redwood MP.

There are several requests from countries to initiate trade talks with a newly independent UK. The Cabinet Office needs to have a good brief available soon for the incoming Prime Minister on how to exit the EU quickly and smoothly, and how to keep decent access to the markets of other EU countries in the process.

Apparently, at the Prime Minister’s instruction, the civil service did not prepare a brief on how to exit during the referendum campaign, as you would expect them to do. In a general election civil servants do not have to work for Ministers on new policies or announcements. Instead they prepare briefs based on each leading party manifesto of how to implement their policies. In the referendum they should have done the same for Brexit.

We are where we are. They can catch up whilst awaiting the appointment of the new Prime Minister. The good news is the civil service has many civil servants currently working on negotiating new laws, policies and budgets with the EU who can be switched over to handling the transition to self-government, and assisting in the negotiations. They know the people and the issues.

The Business Department needs to crack on with setting up a proper trade talks unit. It always used to have one, and has some people working on the implementation of EU trade policy anyway. Some say we need a large number of trade negotiating specialists. Whilst clearly the unit needs high level political and official leadership from people who know how to negotiate and who know the detail of trade matters or have access to those who do, the general issues of trade talks and the detailed issues of tariffs and other barriers can be handled by general civil servants or business people who will soon be expert in the field. There are plenty of model agreements around the world that can be the basis for such deals. The UK after all inherits 53 from the EU as they novate to us and to the rest of the EU on exit. As the UK’s aim is to reduce as many barriers as possible you start with a list of the current barriers and work away from there. Why pretend it is so difficult?

Yesterday I was talking to various business people from around the EU on how the UK trade relationship with the EU might develop. As I expected, business interests on the continent do not want new tariff or non-tariff barriers in the way of their trade with us, and understand they can still have tariff free trade if in turn they do not seek to impose any on the UK. Again I can’t see why people say this has to be such a difficult or long winded negotiation.

I ask again of those involved in business and the government of trade on the continent, what tariffs do you want to impose on us? Do you understand that if and only if you seek to impose tariffs on us then we can impose high tariffs on some agricultural exports from the continent, and a 10 per cent tariff on cars, which I doubt the rest of the EU would want.

 

 

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