Brexit negotiations have not begun well for UK, says former top diplomat
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Brexit negotiations have not begun well for UK, says former top diplomat

61% disapprove of May's handling of talks

Flags are arranged at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels ahead of a first full round of talks on Brexit. Photo: Reuters

Flags are arranged at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels ahead of a first full round of talks on Brexit. Photo: Reuters

Britain's negotiations over leaving the European Union have not begun well due to disagreements among Prime Minister Theresa May's team of ministers about the kind of deal they should be seeking, a former top British diplomat said.

Simon Fraser, until 2015 the most senior civil servant at Britain's Foreign Office and the head of the UK Diplomatic Service, said the government needed to put forward a clearer position.

There are differences within the cabinet about the sort of Brexit that we are heading for and until those differences are further resolved I think it's very difficult for us to have a clear position

Since May lost her parliamentary majority in a failed election gamble in June, infighting between members of her cabinet has broken into the open, with disagreements on issues including whether freedom of movement of EU nationals should continue after Britain leaves the bloc in 2019.

"The negotiations have only just begun, I don't think they have begun particularly promisingly, frankly, on the British side," said Fraser, who also formerly served as chief of staff to the European Trade Commissioner in Brussels.

"We haven't put forward a lot because, as we know, there are differences within the cabinet about the sort of Brexit that we are heading for and until those differences are further resolved I think it's very difficult for us to have a clear position," he told BBC Radio.

In the first full round of Brexit talks last month there was little compromise between British and EU chief negotiators on key disputes including how to protect the rights of expatriate citizens and on settling London's EU "divorce bill".

"So far we haven't put much on the table apart from something on the status of nationals, so we are a bit absent from the formal negotiation," said Fraser, who now advises businesses on Brexit.

An ORB opinion poll published on Monday showed that 61% of British voters disapprove of Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of the Brexit negotiations

"We need to demonstrate that we are ready to engage on the substance so that people can understand what is really at stake here and what the options are, so let's move forward with that."

Media reports say the government is due to publish a series of "position papers" later this week, including its proposals on future customs arrangements with the EU and how to deal with the Northern Irish border.

An ORB opinion poll published today showed that 61% of British voters disapprove of Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of the Brexit negotiations.

Britain has less than two years to negotiate the terms of the divorce and the outlines of the future relationship before it is due to leave in late March 2019.

An August 2-3 opinion poll for ORB International showed 61% of British voters disapproved of the government's handling of the Brexit negotiations, up from 56% last month and 46% in June.

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