Ex UK diplomat says Brexit negotiations not going well

Flags are arranged at the EU Commission headquarters ahead of a first full round of talks on Brexit, Britain’s divorce terms from the European Union, in Brussels, Belgium, in this July 17, 2017 file photo. — Reuters

LONDON — Britain’s negotiations over leaving the European Union have not begun well due to disagreements among Prime Minister Theresa May’s team of ministers about the kind of deal they should be seeking, a former top British diplomat said.

Simon Fraser, until 2015 the most senior civil servant at Britain’s Foreign Office and the head of the UK Diplomatic Service, said the government needed to put forward a clearer position.

Since May lost her parliamentary majority in a failed election gamble in June, infighting between members of her Cabinet has broken into the open, with disagreements on issues including whether freedom of movement of EU nationals should continue after Britain leaves the bloc in 2019.

“The negotiations have only just begun, I don’t think they have begun particularly promisingly, frankly, on the British side,” said Fraser, who also formerly served as chief of staff to the European Trade Commissioner in Brussels.

“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,” he told BBC Radio.

May’s spokesman said the government would “disagree strongly” with Fraser’s comments.

“The last two months we’ve had a constructive start to the negotiations, we’ve covered a significant amount of important ground,” he told reporters.

In the first full round of Brexit talks last month there was little compromise between British and EU chief negotiators on key disputes including how to protect the rights of expatriate citizens and on settling London’s EU “divorce bill.”

“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,” said Fraser, who now advises businesses on Brexit.

“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, so let’s move forward with that.”

Meanwhile, an ORB opinion poll indicated on Monday that

May’s botched gamble on a snap election has shaken public confidence in the government with nearly two thirds of voters now negative about her government’s approach to Brexit talks.

An Aug 2-3 opinion poll for ORB International showed 61 percent of British voters disapproved of the government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, up from 56 percent last month and 46 percent in June.

The data showed most voters approved of May’s handling of Brexit negotiations this year until the start of June when May lost of her majority.

“This months Brexit tracker suggests the damage from a poor election result is continuing to cast doubt over Brexit,” Johnny Heald, managing director of ORB, said.

“Confidence that the prime minister will be able to negotiate the right deal remains brittle,” he said.

When asked if whether they were confident May would get the right deal, 44 percent of people said they were not confident. Just 35 percent were confident May would get the right Brexit deal while 21 percent said they did not know.

ORB asked 2,000 voters across the United Kingdom. The margin of error is around 2.2 percent. — Agencies