Britain’s finance chief starts overseas tour on Brexit fears

December 7, 2016
Britain's finance chief, Philip Hammond, left, speaks whilst South Africa's Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, watches during their media briefing in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Hammond is in South Africa to try to reassure global partners ahead of his country's planned departure from the European Union. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Britain’s exit from the European Union will be a “smooth process” that will not disrupt trade patterns with smaller countries, finance chief Philip Hammond said Wednesday as he began an overseas tour to reassure global partners ahead of his nation’s planned EU departure.

Philip Hammond met with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and business leaders in South Africa and is due to visit Japan and South Korea next. South Africa is Britain’s biggest export market in Africa, with bilateral trade reaching nearly 8 billion pounds in 2015.

Britain’s decision to leave the EU in a referendum earlier this year sent shock waves around the world, rocking financial markets and toppling former Prime Minister David Cameron.

While the decision by British voters to withdraw from the EU created uncertainty, it also could expand business among Britain’s partners, Hammond said after his meeting with Gordhan.

“I want to assure our key trade partners around the world, and South Africa is one of them, of our intention, of our determination to make sure that this is a smooth process that will not disrupt our trade patterns with third-party countries,” Hammond said.

He also said the British government would meet its commitment to Parliament to publish a plan ahead of the Article 50 notice that will trigger two years of talks leading up to a British exit from the 28-nation bloc.

Hammond did not give details about the plan. The Conservative government has been reluctant to reveal much about its strategy or goals, saying that would weaken its hand in negotiations.

Prime Minister Theresa May wants to open exit talks with the EU by the end of March.

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