Brexit: EU breaks up team that negotiated May’s deal in clear sign it will never reopen talks

Sabine Weyand, author of withdrawal agreement, will move to another department, with Michel Barnier also eyeing another role

Jon Stone
Brussels
Wednesday 29 May 2019 11:57
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Brussels is moving to break up the team that negotiated Theresa May’s Brexit deal, in the most concrete sign yet that the EU has absolutely no intention of reopening talks on the treaty.

Sabine Weyand, the brains behind the withdrawal agreement, will be leaving the European Commission’s Article 50 taskforce next week to start a new job running the EU’s trade department.

Ms Weyand’s departure comes as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, was named by French president Emmanuel Macron as someone who might make a good next president of the commission – suggesting that he too may also soon be moving to a different role.

While EU officials say “Taskforce 50” has not been officially disbanded and still exists, the departure represents a move of resources to other areas. It is understood that there is no plan to replace Ms Weyand, who was deputy chief negotiator and who has an intimate working knowledge of the negotiations.

On Tuesday evening, Jean-Claude Juncker said he was “crystal clear” that there would be no more renegotiation, reiterating a commission line that he has held since October last year – but apparently fallen on deaf ears in Westminster.

But despite the unambiguous message emanating from Brussels, most Tory leadership candidates are still standing on platforms of reopening negotiations on the withdrawal agreement, which MPs rejected three times. An attempt by Ms May to bring the deal back for a fourth vote in the House of Commons set in motion a chain of events that resulted in her announcing he resignation – precipitating the current leadership contest.

The move of Ms Weyand to be the boss of the Directorate General for Trade means that were the UK to accept the withdrawal agreement, it would also face her in negotiating its future trade deal with the EU – the next phase of talks. She will also oversee the negotiation of trade deals with the rest of the world in the post because it is not Brexit-specific.

Mr Barnier tweeted: “Congrats to Sabine Weyand on her appointment as new Director-General of Trade! Thanks for your hard work and commitment throughout these extraordinary Brexit negotiations. Working together with you has been a privilege. Our team continues work on UK’s orderly withdrawal.”

A spokesperson for the European Commission said: “The taskforce remains operational. Michel Barnier remains our chief negotiator for Article 50 and there is no ongoing procedure for appointing anyone else in Sabine’s place.”

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