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

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LONDON: 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.


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.


May’s spokesman said the government would “disagree strongly” with Fraser’s comments.


“The last two months we’ve had a constructive start to the negotiations, we’ve covered a significant amount of important ground,” he told reporters.


Brexit bill report denied


Britain does not recognise media reports that the government is willing to pay 40 billion euros ($47.21 billion) to exit the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Monday.


The so-called “exit bill” is one of the first issues on the Brexit negotiating agenda, and also one of the most contentious. The EU has floated a figure of 60 billion euros, while Britain has not indicated how much it would be prepared to pay.


The Sunday Telegraph reported that Britain would be willing to pay up to 40 billion euros. — Reuters


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