Brexit planning proving “considerable challenge” : Former FCO official

The government has yet to prepare a central plan for Brexit, according to the one of the most senior civil servants at the Foreign Office.

Sir Simon Fraser, who served as permanent under-secretary until 2015, told MPs today that he understood drawing up Brexit plans was proving “a considerable challenge”.

“The government has not yet reached the point where, it is still in information-gathering mode and is not yet at the point of integrating that into a central plan.

“And that, I assume, will have to happen before the triggering of Article 50 next year,” Fraser said at a hearing of parliament’s new Brexit watchdog.

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Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to begin divorcing the UK from the European Union between January and March next year.

It comes after a memo emerged reflecting a leaked memo suggested that Whitehall officials were struggling to cope with the workload of Brexit, as position Fraser backed.

“This is a huge burden, a huge additional load, for the civil service. This is an extraordinary complex range of activity across a wide range of domestic and international policies and it will definitely impose a great burden on the civil service.”

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Fraser, who also spent six years at the European Commission, further played down hopes of the UK securing a trade deal with the EU inside of the two years provided by the Article 50 process.

Failure to do so will mean that UK trade with the EU will be defaulted to World Trade Organisation rules.

Pressed by leading Brexiteer Michael Gove on trade talks on the simplest possible terms for “a quickie divorce”, Fraser said it would be ideal to have concluded trade negotiations by the time the UK departs the EU.

However, the former civil servant warned that reaching such a deal within two years would be “unrealistic”, adding it was “inevitable” that deal would need to be mixed with negotiations necessary at both EU and national level.

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