Brexit: UK to withdraw officials from EU meetings from September 1, Boris Johnson government announces

PM has vowed to 'unshackle' diplomats in Brussels

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 20 August 2019 16:06 BST
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Boris Johnson will pull British officials and ministers out of most EU decision-making meetings from September as the government gears up for the Brexit deadline.

Civil servants and ministers will now only attend EU meetings where the UK has a significant national interest in the outcome, such as on security.

The move comes after the prime minister vowed to "unshackle" diplomats in Brussels to employ their talents elsewhere, as Whitehall braces for a looming no-deal departure from the EU.

Announcing the plans, Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, said: “An incredible amount of time and effort goes into EU meetings with attendance just the tip of the iceberg.

"Our diligent, world-class officials also spend many hours preparing for them whether in reading the necessary papers or working on briefings.

“From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours.

"This will free up time for ministers and their officials to get on with preparing for our departure on 31 October and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Catherine Bearder, leader of the Liberal Democrat MEPs, condemned the decision to pull officials from meetings.

She said: "This announcement is a pointless gesture driven by domestic politics which devalues our membership of the EU and shows nothing but contempt for our influence in Brussels and our allies.

"How do you know if important things are discussed if you are not there?"

Mr Johnson will make his first trip to Europe as prime minister in the coming days, when he will hold talks with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and French president Emmanuel Macron ahead of the G7 summit.

However his demands for an overhaul of Theresa May's Brexit deal were met with fierce resistance in Brussels.

In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, the prime minister said that the Irish border backstop was "undemocratic" and should be removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Mr Tusk dismissed his overtures and warned that scrapping the mechanism risked a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

He said: "The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found.

"Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border. Even if they do not admit it."

Attempts to scrap the "vital insurance policy" of the backstop would also be rejected by MEPs, the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt indicated.

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"The time for bluster and political blame games is fast running out," he added.

Officials in Brussels privately accused Mr Johnson of making "incorrect" and "misleading" claims about the situation.

Downing Street said "there is no prospect of a deal" unless the backstop was removed from the agreement.

A spokesman said: "It has already been rejected three times by MPs and is simply unviable as a solution, as the PM’s letter makes clear."

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