Blog: Anti-Brexit Whitehall chiefs tried to block Australia trade deal, senior diplomat says – Daily Mail

Anti-Brexit Whitehall chiefs tried to block Australia trade deal, senior diplomat says

  • A top diplomat claims Whitehall civil servants tried to torpedo a major trade deal
  • George Brandis claimed some senior civil servants were in denial about Brexit 
  • Mr Brandis praises the work of foreign secretary Liz Truss and her work on deals

By Harriet Line For The Daily Mail

Published: | Updated:

Whitehall mandarins hated Brexit so much they resisted forging a new UK trade deal with Australia, a top diplomat has revealed.

Australia’s outgoing high commissioner in London blasted ‘reluctance bordering on hostility’ to secure an agreement.

George Brandis said some top civil servants were ‘in denial’ that Britain was leaving the EU and ‘horror at Brexit’ was their ‘default position’.

He explained: ‘One of the very surprising things to me coming from Australia – where the protectionist argument was thwarted decades ago – was that the default position of Whitehall is protectionism. The default position in Whitehall was horror at Brexit. It was kind of like a cringe or a crouch, recoiling and willing it not to happen – or being in denial that it was happening.

Australia’s outgoing high commissioner in London George Brandis, pictured , blasted ‘reluctance bordering on hostility’ to secure an agreement by some officials in Whitehall over a potential trade deal

Mr Brandis praised the UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, pictured 

‘The Whitehall establishment wanted to maintain this whole culture of protectionism and that set Whitehall completely at variance from the Government’s priority.’

In an interview with The Spectator, Mr Brandis praised former International Trade Secretary Liz Truss – now Foreign Secretary – who he said joined him in his battle with Whitehall chiefs.

He insisted: ‘The political will was there to drive and cut through the bureaucratic and institutional inertia and reluctance. It was more than inertia, it was reluctance bordering on hostility in some departments – most notably Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs].

‘So there were really three sides to the trade negotiation – a large element of the Whitehall establishment, the Australian side and then Liz Truss and those close to her. We were, in a sense, both fighting Whitehall.’

But Mr Brandis said British institutions are ‘extremely resilient’, adding: ‘I’ve never seen institutions in a peaceful country tested like they were in 2018 and 2019 [over Brexit].’

He praised Boris Johnson for getting ‘the concept of the possibility of British greatness’. He said: ‘To change an inherited multi-generational, establishment-reinforced Whitehall-sanctioned culture takes a lot of doing. But that is what Britain is capable of and I think Johnson, for all his faults, has been able to at least kindle that.’

Mr Brandis said the UK can learn from Australia to ‘break out of this mindset that has been inculcated by two generations now of soporific, EU-influenced agricultural policy’ and ‘find new markets’. 

He stressed that after Britain joined the then Common Market in 1973 Australian farmers ‘went out and found new markets, built new markets and were very successful’. 

He added: ‘Britain has all the opportunities. What it has lacked, because of 45 years of being cocooned within the EU, is the enterprising globalising culture to seize those opportunities beyond the Euro-Atlantic and to go into the Indo-Pacific.’

Australia and the UK finally signed a deal at the end of last year, which ministers say will unlock £10.4billion of additional trade. In a major boost for Brexit Britain, the agreement will eliminate all tariffs on exports and will mean Britons will be able to work in Australia for three years.

The deal, which was agreed by Miss Truss in principle last June, was signed by her successor as International Trade Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan. It is the UK’s first ‘from scratch’ trade deal since leaving the EU. Other deals have been built upon previous agreements with the EU.

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Anti-Brexit Whitehall chiefs tried to block Australia trade deal, senior diplomat says

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