The UK does not have its own trade negotiators because they are all working for the European Union, the sacked minister who was due to lead the government’s Brexit unit has suggested.
Oliver Letwin, the former chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who was axed as part of Theresa May’s cabinet shake-up, was appointed by David Cameron to be the architect of the UK’s negotiations with the EU.
He has now been replaced in that role by David Davis, who has been appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
One of the key tasks faced by Mr Davis, along with Liam Fox, the newly appointed International Trade Secretary, will be to negotiate trade deals with the world.
But Mr Letwin painted a grim picture of the challenges they face after he was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme how many trade negotiators the UK has.
He said: “The trade negotiators who are Brits, at the moment are basically working for the EU.”
Mr Letwin was then asked again exactly how many.
He said: “Quite a number… but they are employed there and it’s up to them obviously whether they are recruited into Whitehall. There are obviously very experienced trade negotiators elsewhere in the world as well.”
Mr Letwin was then asked if the UK has in fact got any of its own trade negotiators.
“No, no,” he said.
“We don’t have trade negotiators because the trade negotiation has been going on in the EU so we are going to have to hire a whole – David Davis is going to have to hire – group to deal with the EU negotiations and Liam Fox of course in what I think is an excellent plan of Theresa’s to create a new Department of International Trade.”
Mr Davis has called for a “brisk but measured” approach to Brexit and the triggering of Article 50 to leave the EU late this year or in early 2017, repeating comments made before he was appointed to the Cabinet.
Mrs May has previously said she will not trigger the two-year process of leaving before the end of 2016.
Mr Davis said the government’s “first order of business” will be to begin negotiations with the aim of striking trade deals with non-EU countries such as the US and China.