UK Politics

Brexit: Civil servants to get international trade training

Cabinet Office building Image copyright PA

Civil servants are to be trained in international trade negotiating to prepare for the UK's exit from the EU.

An invitation to tender has been put out for a contract to coach staff from across Whitehall about trade policy.

Staff will be expected to get a thorough grounding in the UK's trade priorities and those of major partners and to understand relevant terminology.

The UK hopes to seal a raft of free trade deals after Brexit but there are concerns about a lack of know-how.

In his resignation letter last month, the former UK ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers claimed multilateral negotiating experience was in "short supply" in the UK.

The EU has handled trade negotiations on the UK's behalf for decades, with many of the UK's specialists in the field working in Brussels.

The Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade are now seeking a supplier to provide "short-term civil service training in international trade policy and negotiations".

The successful bidder will be expected to "provide staff across Whitehall departments with a thorough knowledge of the key areas and terminology of international trade policy and the trading priorities of the UK and its key partners".

'Negotiating agenda'

The objective is to give officials the knowledge and skills to "support and deliver the UK's international trade policy priorities and negotiating agenda in the UK and overseas".

The process is being managed by KPMG, the professional services firm which runs the civil service's core curriculum on behalf of the Cabinet Office.

Image copyright AFP

The UK cannot negotiate any deals until it has left the EU and, at the moment, the government is restricted to scoping out potential future opportunities.

But ministers have suggested there is a long queue of countries keen to sign bilateral agreements, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

US President Donald Trump says he would like an early trade accord with the UK after Brexit and is expected to discuss the issue with Theresa May when they meet on Friday.

The Treasury has given extra funding to the Department for International Trade and the Foreign Office to strengthen the UK's trade promotion capabilities.

Two months ago, a senior official said the civil service was committed to equipping existing staff for new responsibilities but may also "buy in" talent from outside Whitehall.

Oliver Griffiths said the UK had 45 trade policy experts at the time of last June's referendum vote and the number was now "100 up on that".

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