Brittan fills Trade portfolio vacancy

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Indy Politics

The Government yesterday appointed the former cabinet minister Lord Brittan as its trade adviser.

Lord Brittan, who once employed Nick Clegg as an aide and tried to persuade him to join the Conservatives, will take up the post for six months while the search goes on for a full-time Trade minister.

David Cameron said the peer – who served as Home Secretary and Trade and Industry Secretary in Margaret Thatcher's government – had "unrivalled experience" for the role.

The news comes amid reports that the Coalition is having difficulty appointing a Trade minister to promote UK interests overseas, with prominent business grandees supposedly shunning the job. The last incumbent under Labour, the former Standard Chartered Bank chairman Lord Davies, is said to have declined an offer from Mr Cameron to stay on.

Those believed to have been approached for the job include the former M&S chief Sir Stuart Rose.

Senior figures are thought to be unwilling to come on board because the post is unpaid, and all company directorships have to be given up.

One of the 70-year-old's main tasks will be to make progress with the Doha round of international trade talks, as well as helping UK businesses to gain a foothold in fast-growing economies such as China and India.

Lord Brittan, who takes up the role next month, said: "Removing trade barriers and stimulating investment is crucial for our national prosperity. To help work out how this can best be achieved, both nationally and internationally, is an immensely exciting challenge. I am honoured and delighted to be asked to take this on."

In a statement, the Prime Minister said: "Lord Brittan will bring his unrivalled experience and knowhow to what is one of the most important issues we face: to drive forward our ambitious trade agenda.

"As we come out of recession it is crucial that we demonstrate that the British economy is open for trade, open for investment and open for business."

Lord Brittan resigned from the Thatcher government in 1986 after he was found to have leaked a damaging letter during cabinet infighting over the Westland helicopter company.

He spent most of the 1990s serving on the European Commission, where one of his aides was Nick Clegg, now Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister.

Pat McFadden, the shadow Business Secretary, said: "Three months and counting and still no Trade minister appointed.

"This is now a major embarrassment for the Government. A proper Trade minister must be appointed as soon as possible."