During the referendum campaign I made the point a number of times that the UK had no experienced trade negotiators which we would need after a Brexit to negotiate with the EU and with third countries. As Ken Clarke noted in a Sky interview when he was up against Nadine Dorries, trade negotiations are not a doddle. They are complex and demanding and require a special skill set. The legal context is baffling and I am pleased that we have two trade law experts on our Yorkshire Agricultural Society working party.
At one point I even thought that I had got The Times 'Red Box' interested, but it all came to nothing.
The only trade negotiators we have at the moment are working for the EU and they may be able to line up other, more lucrative jobs in Brussels where they are probably settled with their families with children attending an international school. The civil services does claim there are 10 or 12 officials 'with direct knowledge on trade negotiations', but that could mean attending as observers or summarising the outcome. Canada, which recently negotiated an as yet unratified agreement with the EU, has 830.
The head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, has already spoken to professional services firms (among them Linklaters and McKinsey) but they and law firms are likely to charge an arm and a leg. Nevertheless, the aim is to have 300 experts by the end of the year when Article 50 is likely to be triggered.
Nigel Farage has come up with a unique solution: 'Let's get them from Singapore or South Korea or Chile or Switzerland or any of these countries who've managed to achieve far more in terms of global trade deals than we have', departing from his usual line on immigration.
Poor old Ken, by the way, not only did he have to try and have a serious debate with Nadine Dorries, at a meeting in Skipton where I was the warm up act, an elderly gentleman stormed out shouting 'Traitor' when Ken started to speak. He didn't bat an eyelid and gave his usual polished performance.