Brexit & UK trade, UK-EU negotiations

Brexit: who will run key trade functions in Whitehall


This summer, the contours of the ministries who will run Britain’s process of leaving the EU – the Department for Exiting the European Union, and the country’s nascent trade policy, the Department for International Trade , have appeared, as senior management positions were filled.


Below some people to watch who could end up havingt a significant role in shaping the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. Be prepared for loads of turf wars, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office also wants its say in the whole issue.

Who leads trade policy in the UK’s “Brexit ministry” and in the DIT


  • Department for Exiting the European Union


Minister: David Davies


Oliver Robbins, Permanent Secretary


Formerly Second Permanent Secretary at the Home Office in charge of immigration, free movement policy, and citizenship issues.


Sarah Healy, Director General


Previously Director General at the Department for Culture Media and Sport, Director for Private Pensions in DWP, and Director of Strategy and of Education Funding in the Department for Education.


Antony Phillipson, Director of Trade and Partnerships 


Former private secretary for foreign affairs for Tony Blair. Former British high commissioner to Singapore and director in the Cabinet Office’s European and Global Issues Secretariat.


Catherine Webb, Director of Market Access and Budget


Previous Cabinet Office’s director of EU internal issues, a former trade and economic policy expert at the Foreign Office.


Department for International Trade


Secretary of State: Liam Fox


According to the UK government website: “the department has a wide remit, incorporating the negotiation of trade deals and free trade agreements, as well as providing the international support previously provided by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI)”.


Mark Ian Price, aka The Lord Price CVO, Minister of State for Trade Policy


Already in charge of trade promotion before the Brexit vote. Under the new configuration the English baron was allocated roles linked to “free trade agreements and the UK’s dealings with the World Trade Organisation”, so the UK government.


Martin Donnelly – Joint Permanent Secretary, BEIS and Acting Permanent Secretary, DIT


Former Permanent Secretary for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Overall coordination and management role.


Catherine Raines, Director General, International Trade & Investment


Former Chief Executive of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and Director-General of UKTI China.


John Alty, Director General, Trade Policy


Formerly at the Intellectual Property Office. His role is analytical and strategic, not operational.


Unclear division of labour


So we have the people, but we don’t know what exactly they will be working on, nor who in the end will decide on what.


It is unclear for instance how the respective political weight of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, led by Boris Johnson, the Department for International Trade, led by Liam Fox, and the Department for Leaving the EU, led by David Davis, will turn out. In August, Liam Fox has asked FCO’s economic diplomacy team, should move over to his own department for International Trade.


“The ‘who does what’ question is not clear at this stage”, Roderick Abbott, former WTO Deputy Director and former top British civil servant at the Commission, told Borderlex. “the division of labour between the two and indeed with other Ministries in London is not yet … definitively decided”. Indeed, roles in the departments could overlap: what would be the Brexit ministry’s Phillipson’s role be, compared to UKTI’s Raines? Raines is also on the management board of the FCO.


More broadly, the FCO under Borish Johnson claims overall responsibility for the following policy areas: “British nationals overseas”, “European single market”, and “Exports and Inward Investment”. It also has a foreign economic diplomatic deam. On 22 August, Boris Johnson met New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully. In a statement, Johnson said: “The government strongly welcomed New Zealand’s enthusiasm following the EU referendum for a Free Trade Agreement with the UK in the future. The UK will want the strongest possible economic and people to people links with a close friend and important partner like New Zealand in years to come.” Liam Fox was not involved.


Ultimate arbiter and decision-maker will be Prime Minister Theresa May. But she has not yet set a clear policy direction for the UK’s Brexit and trade policy strategy.


In the meantime, prepare for turf wars.


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