Theresa May under fire for picking ‘hard Brexiteers’ to help control EU exit negotiations

Yet there is no place on the Cabinet committee which will oversee withdrawal for the Attorney General – despite the complex legal challenges involved

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 14 October 2016 13:11 BST
Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, is among supporters of a 'hard Brexit' appointed to the committee
Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, is among supporters of a 'hard Brexit' appointed to the committee (PA)

Theresa May has been accused of packing the group of Cabinet ministers which will control EU exit negotiations with “hard Brexiteers”.

The Prime Minister also provoked surprise by failing to allocate a place to the Attorney General – despite the complex legal challenges ahead before EU withdrawal can be delivered.

The makeup of the European Union Exit and Trade Committee had not been released by Downing Street, but was revealed by news website Politico.

Its job is to “oversee the negotiations on the withdrawal from the European Union and formation of a new relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union; and policy on international trade”.

The group includes all six members of Ms May’s Cabinet who campaigned to leave the EU in the referendum.

Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary), Liam Fox (International Trade Secretary) and David Davis (Brexit Secretary) were certain members – but they are joined by Priti Patel (International Development Secretary), Chris Grayling (Transport Secretary) and Andrea Leadsom (Environment Secretary).

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “The line-up is full of hard Brexiteers – this is a further sign that the government wants to pull us out in the most aggressive way possible, abandoning the single market.

“This is a case of May letting the foxes into the hen-house. She clearly wants to pursue a hard Brexit, putting jobs at risk, and we are seeing costs rise from our shelves to our petrol pumps.”

Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary, said the appointments flew in the face of the Prime Minister's claim to want a “national consensus on Brexit”.

He said: “The Government need to provide need answers, a plan and guarantee proper parliamentary scrutiny. Theresa May’s decision to pack a key Brexit committee with Ministers committed to a hard Brexit will only fuel fears that she is putting narrow party interest above the national interest.”

Ms May has sought to balance the 12-strong committee with five other members who, like her, sided with the Remain campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

They are Philip Hammond (Chancellor), Amber Rudd (Home Secretary), Damian Green (Work and Pensions Secretary), Greg Clark (Business Secretary) and Patrick McLoughlin (Conservative Party chairman).

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish secretaries will attend meetings “as required” but not as a matter of routine, according to the Government document.

That omission is certain to draw fire from Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP First Minister, who has demanded an equal say on the withdrawal process.

The committee’s make-up risks fuelling the concerns of businesses that the Government will pursue a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ – putting immigration controls ahead of access to the EU’s single market.

Fears over the UK’s future relationship with the EU were blamed for the pound’s plunge to a three-decade low against the dollar this week.

However, Ms May has long made clear that she will chair the negotiation committee and decisions will also rest on the stance of the other 27 EU nations.

Cabinet committees reduce the burden on the full Cabinet, by enabling collective decisions to be taken by a smaller group of ministers.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister was today meeting Britain’s ambassadors to the other 27 EU member states, to discuss their assessment of the individual countries’ attitudes to Brexit.

Since taking office, Ms May has already visited eight EU states – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain – as well as hosting the leaders of Ireland and Cyprus in Downing Street and speaking with the PMs of Luxembourg and Malta at the United Nations in New York.

This leaves 15 leaders to meet in the eight weeks before a crucial European Council summit, on 15 December.

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