Brexit chaos: Inside collapsing UK-US trade talks – ‘Chronic problems!’

According to the Daily Telegraph, which has seen details of meetings spanning two years, overstretched departments have been working “at cross purposes” while negotiators wrestle with sensitive subjects such as rules on health, farming and finance. There are now growing fears the US is starting to lose patience and the lack of agreement could end hopes of a post-Brexit partnership envisaged at the centre of a “global Britain” trade strategy.

In one of the leaked memos seen by the paper, a British diplomat warns this week’s visit to Washington by international trade secretary Liam Fox could come across as a “bit of a desperate bid” to demonstrate progress.

The cache of notes and memos reveals risings concerns among officials about Britain’s ability to conduct such complex negotiations.

And their emergence shines more light on a transatlantic relationship under strain after the leak of criticisms of the Trump administration by Sir Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the US who resigned today as a result of the scandal.

They show that Britain has struggled to keep pace with US negotiators from the outset with one email suggesting Washington had started sending “less senior” officials to meetings while the UK seemed unable to get “the right people in the room”.

Civil servants were forced to issue an amber-red alert signalling a risk of failure and warned that the discussions were talks were rapidly “falling behind schedule”.

Whitehall sources said shortages of expert trade officials were a “chronic problem” with the most able civil servants being shunted into crucial Brexit roles.

The Department for International Trade dismissed claims of foundering talks.

A spokesman said: “On Wednesday the UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group began its sixth meeting involving over 100 officials from the two sides.

“It has now covered all major policy areas that needed to be covered before our two nations begin negotiations on an actual free trade agreement. Formal talks cannot begin until after Brexit.

“Only yesterday the International Trade Secretary returned from Washington where he held high-level trade discussions with key figures in the administration, including Ivanka Trump and the US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer.

“We are well prepared for trade negotiations with our biggest trading partner. To suggest otherwise is completely and demonstrably false.”


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