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New Zealander at heart of latest Brexit stoush

A pro-Brexit faction is calling for former New Zealand trade negotiator Crawford Falconer to be given a key role in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit team, according to UK media.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that the European Research Group, an anti-EU group of Conservative MPs which helped May win a majority in Tuesday night’s crucial Brexit deal vote, wanted Falconer to replace May’s present chief negotiator Ollie Robbins.

“Some Brexiters claim they received assurances from No 10 in the run-up to last night’s crunch vote that May’s chief negotiator, Ollie Robbins – a bogeyman for many pro-Brexit MPs – would be nudged aside in favour of Crawford Falconer, the UK’s top trade negotiator,” the Guardian said.

A spokesman for Theresa May denied any changes in the Brexit negotiation line-up, prompting European Research Group chair Steve Baker to say that Falconer’s exclusion was “a longstanding mistake which should be rectified now”.

Falconer has held senior trade positions at New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the World Trade Organisation, and the OECD. He was appointed the UK’s chief trade negotiation advisor at the Department of International Trade in 2017.

He has also worked with pro-Brexit thinktank, the Legatum Institute. This has led him to be seen by some commentators as on the “hard Brexit” side of the debate, where the UK leaves not only the EU but the single market and the customs union.

The urgency to the Brexit negotiations is increasing as the March 29 deadline for the UK to leave the EU approaches.

“Baker’s impatience with the choice of personnel to handle the challenging next phase of the negotiations underlines the intense pressure May is under to return from Brussels with a deal the Brexiters will accept,” the Guardian said.

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