UK’s Brexit strategy begins to take shape

By Michael Sercan Daventry

LONDON (AA) – Brexit is the very top item in new U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s in-tray.

British voters decided by a narrow margin, and against their government’s advice, to leave the EU in a referendum three weeks ago.

The result was a clear instruction to leave the 28-nation bloc, but left behind a confused picture on what kind of British-European relationship should replace it.

May’s first two days in office showed signs of how she planned to respond.

Her first step was to stage a clear break with her predecessor David Cameron, whose idea it had been to stage a referendum and who campaigned strongly for Britain to remain an EU member.

May spent Thursday morning telling many of Cameron’s close associates that she would not offer them a portfolio in her government.

Finance Minister George Osborne, Justice Secretary Michael Gove – who had campaigned for the Brexit – and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan were among those who were not offered roles while others, including Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, chose to resign.

May then placed lead Brexit campaigners from her Conservative Party into ministerial positions that would be the most important as Britain constructed its post-EU future.

The most eye-catching appointment was Boris Johnson, the former London mayor who briefly contested May for the Conservative leadership, who was made Foreign Secretary.

– Brexit ministry

But other appointments were equally significant.

The new prime minister created two whole new ministries and handed them to so-called “Brexiteers”. David Davis, who had campaigned for Brexit for years, was appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. His department will coordinate the enormous task of disentangling Britain from the vast range of treaties and regulations that bind it to Europe.

In article he wrote on the ConservativeHome website on Monday, He has said on the U.K. could trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the mechanism available to EU member states that want to leave the bloc, “before or by the beginning of next year.”

He wrote: “The negotiating strategy has to be properly designed, and there is some serious consultation to be done first. Constitutional propriety requires us to consult with the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish governments first, and common sense implies that we should consult with stakeholders like the City, [business and trade unions], universities and research foundations and the like.

May named Liam Fox, a former defense secretary, international trade secretary.

His task to rebuild Britain’s trade relations outside of the European single market will be all the more challenging because the country has no trade negotiators of its own.

The EU has negotiated trade deals on Britain’s behalf for decades and the U.K. government has none of its own, according to former cabinet minister Oliver Letwin.

Letwin, who was appointed by Cameron to lead Brexit negotiations until Theresa May replaced him with Davis this week, said the U.K. government would have to hire a whole new team to discuss its post-EU deals.

He told BBC radio on Friday: “We don’t have trade negotiators because the trade negotiation has been going on in the EU so we are going to have to hire a whole – David Davis is going to have to hire – a group to deal with the EU negotiations.

“And Liam Fox, of course, in what I think is an excellent plan of Theresa’s to create a new Department of International Trade, is also going to have to hire a group of trade negotiators.”

Some of the more experienced negotiators will have to train up a cadre of junior civil servants, he added.

– Scotland and Northern Ireland

Once the negotiating team is in place, Britain will be able to discuss the terms of its exit with external actors – in particular, the European Commission and European Council.

But May has some tricky internal negotiations to conduct too.

On Friday, she left London for the first time as prime minister to travel to Scotland for talks with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain part of the EU, but were outvoted by the more populated England and Wales.

May took office this week promising to keep the United Kingdom together, but she will have to find a way of persuading Sturgeon, who said Scotland was being taken out of the EU against its will and that a new referendum on Scottish independence could now be inevitable.