UK finance minister Philip Hammond in UAE to gauge mood for post-Brexit trade deals

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer says the UK's trade relations with its traditional partners will be more important, and provide more opportunities, after Brexit

Britain’s chancellor Philip Hammond. Rodger Bosch / AFP
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The British chancellor arrived in the UAE on Thursday to bang the drum for trade and gauge the attitudes of major sovereign investors as expectations of a hard Brexit increase.

His arrival in the region coincides with a political storm at home after Ivan Rogers quit as Britain’s ambassador to the EU on Tuesday. The prime minister, Theresa May, moved quickly to name Tim Barrow, a career diplomat, as his replacement following criticism about the government’s strategy for leaving the EU.

In an interview with The National in Abu Dhabi, Philip Hammond, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, emphasised the importance of boosting trade and investment in the region.

“As the UK moves towards exiting the European Union, our trade relations with our traditional partners around the world are going to become more important to us. We will have a clear necessity to build on those relationships and also the opportunity to do it because being outside the European Union will give us opportunities we didn’t have inside.”

The UAE accounts for about £13 billion (Dh58.77bn) of the £30bn of trade that Britain has with the GCC economies.

Mr Hammond said that one of the purposes of visiting the region was to assess the attitudes of regional investors to Brexit.

“One of the key purposes was to take the pulse of big investors in the UK six months on from the Brexit decision, which, of course, came as a shock to all of them, I suspect,” he said.

“Most of the investors in the Gulf are long-term investors and they have looked at the situation and concluded that, long term, this is certainly not going to be negative for the UK economy and could be positive, that their investment appetite for the UK will not be diminished and in many cases, including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, have indeed announced significant new investments since the Brexit vote took place.”

Mr Hammond’s visit to the region began in Kuwait on Wednesday.

It forms part of a series of international visits aimed at showcasing the country’s commitment to form stronger investment and trade ties as it prepares to leave the EU.

It follows a visit by the UK’s prime minister and foreign secretary to the region last month. Mr Hammond said he planned to return to the region within weeks on a separate trip to Saudi Arabia.

Mrs May on Wednesday appointed Mr Barrow to succeed Mr Rogers, who a day earlier resigned from his post as the ambassador to the EU.

A leaked letter from Mr Rogers to his staff in Brussels referred to the “muddled thinking” of ministers around Brexit and a lack of experienced negotiators.

Mr Hammond downplayed the significance of the early departure of Mr Rogers from his post.

“Ivan was going to retire later this year anyway. I don’t know what thought process he went through as I haven’t discussed it with him,” he said.

He described his successor, Mr Barrow, as “a seasoned diplomat and a very tough negotiator”.

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