U.K. Says It's Attracting 'Top Talent' to Post-Brexit Trade Team

  • Trade department has workforce of over 3,200 people globally
  • Government denies first choice for trade envoy turned it down

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As reports of disagreements over the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union continue, the U.K. government said it’s having no problems recruiting “top talent” to the ministry that will negotiate post-Brexit trade deals.

The Department for International Trade has increased its workforce to over 3,200 people, it said in a statement on its website Monday, with the trade-policy team expanding to more than 300 from 45 in June 2016, including policy and country specialists, as well as expert economic analysts and lawyers.

The department has drawn criticism for not being adequately prepared for Brexit. Andrew Adonis, a former cabinet minister from the opposition Labour Party who now heads the National Infrastructure Commission, suggested in the Guardian newspaper last week that the government has virtually no trade lawyers and that the top candidate for chief trade negotiator turned down the job due to a pay dispute. Crawford Falconer, who was appointed to the role in June, was the first choice and to suggest otherwise is false, the government said.

There are 20 lawyers working on trade issues and there is “significant demand for roles at all levels,” the department said, with more than 1,000 applications received in one recruitment round. Despite this, a written answer to Parliament showed last week that the department is budgeting 2.5 million pounds ($3.3 million) to train existing staff, many of whom have little experience of negotiating trade deals.

The talks over Britain’s future relationship with the European Union have so far stalled on the issues of freedom of movement and how much the U.K. will have to pay to leave the bloc. The government has dismissed reports that the U.K. is prepared to pay a 40 billion- euro ($47 billion) bill on its departure, with Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman James Slack telling reporters on Monday that he didn’t recognize the figure.

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