Brexit Talks with EU Not ‘Promising’ for Britain, Former Top UK Official Warns

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the Market Place ceremony as part of the Centenary of Passchendaele, The Third Battle of Ypres commemorations at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s (CWGC) Menin Gate Memorial, in Ieper, Belgium, 30 July 2017. Photo: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Britain has been largely ‘absent’ from the negotiations for Brexit with the EU, a former head at the British Foreign Service.
  • Internal discord inside the British Cabinet has prevented it from putting forth a clear position, Simon Fraser says.
  • In his words, the Brexit negotiations have not begun well and don’t look promising for the UK.
  • His criticism has been flatly rejected by the British Prime Minister’s Office.

The UK’s negotiations with the European Union for Brexit, i.e. Britain’s exit from the EU, have not begun well because of “differences” inside the British Cabinet, Simon Fraser, a former head of the British diplomatic service, has warned.

His comments come after reports in the British press that the government in London is prepared to pay up to GBP 36 billion (app. EUR 40 billion, USD 47 billion) to the EU to settle the so called Brexit “divorce bill”, a substantially lower figure than the EUR 60 – 100 billion cited by some estimates.

Media reports alleged the EU planned to ask Britain to pay some EUR 60 billion (USD 71 billion) to settle all financial obligations undertaken by the EU 28 until 2019, which is when Brexit is supposed to become a fact.

However, a report by The Financial Times said the Brexit “divorce bill” to be sought by the EU was estimated at EUR 100 billion (USD 118 billion), almost double the previous estimate.

The talks for Brexit between the EU and the UK finally began on June 19, 2017, about a year after the Brexit referendum was held, and after on March 29, 2017, British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which deals with exit from the European Union, initiating a two-year process of negotiations.

In their June 2016 referendum, the majority of the British citizens voted in favor of Brexit (51.9% to 48.1%).

The guidelines for the Brexit talks adopted by the EU list three main priorities: securing the rights of EU nationals in the UK; collecting Britain’s financial dues; and avoiding a hard border between the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, should be avoided.

Britain and the EU recently had their first full session of talks on Brexit, with the two parties remaining at odds on key issues such as citizens’ rights and the divorce bill the UK is expected to pay. May has made it clear the UK is to end free movement of people with the EU in 2019.

‘A Bit Absent’

The Brexit negotiations “have not begun well” for the UK, according to Simon Fraser, chief mandarin at the British Foreign Office until 2015, told BBC Radio 4 on Monday.

The UK side had been “a bit absent” from formal negotiations with the European Union in Brussels and has not offered a clear position”, according to the former top official who now advises businesses on Brexit.

Fraser, who campaigned for “Remain” ahead of last year’s Brexit referendum, said he feared divisions within the British Cabinet were preventing the government from presenting a united front.

“The negotiations have only just begun, I don’t think they have begun particularly promisingly, frankly, on the British side,” he 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 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,” he elaborated.

He called on the government to publish further details about its views on issues, including future customs arrangements and the Northern Irish border in the coming weeks.

“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,” Fraser explained.

However, his criticism and advice have been turned down by the office of British Prime Minister Theresa May.

“The last two months, we have had a constructive start to the negotiations. We have covered a significant amount of important ground,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

“As the secretary of state for exiting the European Union said at the end of the last negotiating round, important progress has been made in understanding one another’s positions on key issues,” the spokesman noted.

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