Daily Express - - FRONT PAGE - By Macer Hall Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

MIN­IS­TERS and of­fi­cials are to pull out of vir­tu­ally all EU meet­ings as Brexit looms.

EU Exit Sec­re­tary Stephen Bar­clay has or­dered them to stop at­tend­ing rou­tine diplo­matic brief­ings and panel dis­cus­sions in Brus­sels from Septem­ber 1

two months be­fore the UK’s sched­uled de­par­ture on Oc­to­ber 31.

Di­plo­mats and other civil ser­vants will be ex­pected in­stead to spend their time build­ing re­la­tion­ships with other trad­ing part­ners around the world.

The fresh sign that White­hall is dra­mat­i­cally ramp­ing up prepa­ra­tions for a no- deal divorce was an­nounced last night.

Mr Bar­clay 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 Oc­to­ber 31 and seiz­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties that lie ahead.”

Of­fi­cials at his de­part­ment said that with the Brexit date now “very close”, most dis­cus­sions in Brus­sels were fo­cused on how the EU will func­tion once the UK has left and were in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant to White­hall.

Around 800 EU meet­ings to dis­cuss a range of is­sues are sched­uled to take place dur­ing Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

Yes­ter­day’s an­nounce­ment will mean UK min­is­ters and of­fi­cials will now only at­tend around a third of them.

How­ever they will at­tend Brus­sels meet­ings where the UK “has a sig­nif­i­cant na­tional in­ter­est in the out­come of dis­cus­sions” such as those cov­er­ing se­cu­rity, in­ter­na­tional relations or fi­nance.

And the Prime Min­is­ter will also con­tinue at­tend­ing EU sum­mits.

Of­fi­cials said the UK would not “frus­trate” the func­tion­ing of the EU. Bri­tain’s vote will be del­e­gated on a case by case ba­sis to the EU Pres­i­dency to en­sure rou­tine Brus­sels busi­ness is not held up.

A state­ment from the UK Gov­ern­ment to the Pres­i­dency said: “The UK Gov­ern­ment re­mains com­mit­ted to the duty of sin­cere co­op­er­a­tion and will not stand in the way of the con­duct of EU busi­ness dur­ing this time.”

Mean­while the tense diplo­matic stand off over the dead­locked Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions in­ten­si­fied when Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk yes­ter­day flatly re­jected Boris Johnson’s lat­est pro­posal for a de­par­ture deal.

He ac­cused the Prime Min­is­ter of want­ing to re- es­tab­lish a hard bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Ir­ish Repub­lic. His provoca­tive blast came in re­sponse to a let­ter sent by the Prime Min­is­ter to the EU on Mon­day propos­ing a new guar­an­tee of no cus­toms checks at the North­ern Ir­ish bor­der.

Re­spond­ing to the let­ter, Mr Tusk wrote on Twit­ter: “Those against the back­stop and not propos­ing re­al­is­tic al­ter­na­tives in fact sup­port re- es­tab­lish­ing a bor­der. Even if they do not ad­mit it.”

Mr Johnson last night dis­missed Mr Tusk’s re­sponse as “a bit neg­a­tive”.

Ahead of a meet­ing with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel this evening and fur­ther talks with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, the

Prime Min­is­ter ad­mit­ted: “At the mo­ment it is ab­so­lutely true that our friends and part­ners are a bit neg­a­tive.

“I saw what Don­ald Tusk had to say and it wasn’t redo­lent of a sense of op­ti­mism.

“But I think ac­tu­ally we will get there.

“There is a real sense now that some­thing needs to be done with this back­stop.

“We can’t get it through Par­lia­ment as it is.

“So, I am go­ing to go at it with a lot of oomph as you’d ex­pect, and I hope we will be mak­ing some progress in the course of the next few weeks.

“Clearly, one thing that slightly com­pli­cates the pic­ture is our EU friends still clearly think there is a pos­si­bil­ity that Par­lia­ment will block Brexit, and as long as they think that there is a pos­si­bil­ity that Par­lia­ment will block Brexit, they are un­likely to be minded to make the con­ces­sions that we need. So it is go­ing to take a bit of pa­tience.” Chan­cel­lor Sa­jid Javid last night fur­ther ramped up no- deal Brexit prepa­ra­tions by an­nounc­ing that HMRC will au­to­mat­i­cally en­rol more than 88,000 VATreg­is­tered com­pa­nies across the UK in a new cus­toms iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem to avoid bor­der de­lays.

In an­other move, the De­part­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment an­nounced an ex­tra £ 9mil­lion to help en­sure that ports are fully pre­pared to cope with a no- deal Brexit.

More than £ 2.6mil­lion of the to­tal will go to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in Kent be­cause of the county close­ness to the con­ti­nent.

PULLING out of al­most all the Euro­pean Union meet­ings sched­uled for next month is a very wel­come de­vel­op­ment from the Gov­ern­ment. This is more than a sym­bolic move by Boris Johnson. It’s a vis­i­ble sign that the EU and mem­ber­ship of the bloc rep­re­sents Bri­tain’s past and not its fu­ture.

For those who be­lieve that some­how Brexit will be de­layed beyond Oc­to­ber 31, or even stopped, this de­ci­sion is a sign that the new Gov­ern­ment is deadly earnest in get­ting us out and open­ing up a bright new fu­ture with im­mense op­por­tu­ni­ties for this coun­try.

And if we needed re­mind­ing of why this is hap­pen­ing, the Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk once again pro­vided us with it.

Mr Tusk met the Prime Min­is­ter’s re­quest to ditch the “un­demo­cratic” Ir­ish back­stop with a con­temp­tu­ous Tweet on so­cial me­dia.

Like all the Euro­pean estab­lish­ment, he has treated Bri­tain and Brexit with con­tempt through­out the whole process.

That is why the rea­son­able and con­struc­tive ap­proach adopted by Theresa May was doomed to fail.

We need to leave this bloc run by un­ac­count­able peo­ple like Tusk who do not un­der­stand Bri­tain or democ­racy and can­not treat ei­ther with the re­spect they de­serve.

The de­ci­sion to not take part in the EU meet­ings is the start of a fi­nal recog­ni­tion that our time as a mem­ber is fin­ished.

Let’s hope the Re­main­ers in Par­lia­ment do not suc­ceed in de­lay­ing our exit again.

Stephen Bar­clay... saving time

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