Brexit negotiations have 'not begun well' due to 'differences inside the cabinet', says former diplomatic boss

Andy Wells
Brexit negotiations have reportedly not started well (PA)

The Brexit negotiations are reported to have got off to a bad start due to “differences” inside the Cabinet, according to a former head of the diplomatic service.

Sir Simon Fraser, who was the chief mandarin at the Foreign Office until 2015, said the UK side had been “a bit absent” from the formal negotiations in Brussels.

He said that the Government’s plan to publish “position papers” over the next few weeks would help talks.

Sir Simon, who now advises businesses on Brexit and foreign policy, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “The negotiations have only just begun, I don’t think they have begun particularly promisingly, frankly, on the British side.

“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.”

Sir Simon Fraser said Britain has to show it is ready to engage in talks (Wikipedia)

Sir Simon added: “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.

“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.”

Sir Simon spoke the day after reports emerged of fury that Brexit negotiators trying to “ram through” a £36 billion divorce bill while most of the Cabinet is on holiday.

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Tory Eurosceptics are said to have reacted angrily to the scale of the divorce bill, believing that Britain is under no obligation to pay a penny.

The Sunday Telegraph said that senior Whitehall officials have concluded that the offer is the only way to break the deadlock in talks over future trade deals.

North West Hampshire’s Tory MP Kit Malthouse said it was “weird” for Brussels to ask for cash to agree a trade deal, adding: ”They seem to say ‘well, if you want free trade you’ll have to pay for it’ – well then, it’s not free trade.”

Brexit Secretary David Davis is leading the UK’s negotiations (Rex)

The EU’s stance is that trade talks cannot begin until significant progress has been made on the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland.

Conservative MP Peter Bone said a Brexit fee of £36 billion was unlikely to get through Parliament – and suggested Brussels should be paying the UK instead.

He said: “One of the prime reasons the UK voted to leave the EU was to stop sending them billions of pounds per year, so it would be totally bizarre to give the EU any money, let alone £36 billion, given also that over the years that we have been in the EU or its predecessor we have given them, net, over £200 billion.

“So if there was going to be any transfer of money then it should be from the EU to the UK.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset, said: “There is no logic to this figure, legally we owe nothing.”

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