UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s departmental reorganisation, intended to provide the logistical framework for negotiating Brexit and the UK’s future relationships with both the EU and non-EU countries, has significant implications for the UK Government’s trade policy.
Prior to the reorganisation, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (“BIS“) was responsible for the UK’s trade and investment policy, among other things. However, responsibility for trade and investment has now been transferred to the newly-created Department for International Trade (“DIT“), led by Secretary of State Liam Fox. DIT will be responsible for developing, coordinating and delivering the UK’s trade and investment policy, and developing and negotiating free trade agreements with non-EU countries. DIT will also be responsible for the UK’s export control policy, with the UK Export Control Organisation having also transferred to DIT from BIS.
Negotiations towards withdrawing from, and establishing a future trading relationship with, the EU are officially to be handled by the new Department for Exiting the European Union (“DEEU“), created from the previous Cabinet Office unit set up to explore Brexit options by David Cameron and now led by Secretary of State David Davis. However, given likely areas of overlap between the trade policy remits of DIT and DEEU (for example, potential extension of Brexit negotiations into discussions concerning policy towards non-EU countries), it is at present unclear how these powers are to be divided in practice.
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker has appointed the former Vice-President of the European Commission and former French Minister, Michel Barnier, as Chief Negotiator in charge of leading the Commission Taskforce for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK.