Davis leads army of bu­reau­crats into EU lair

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Peter Fos­ter and James Crisp in Brus­sels

BRITAIN de­ployed nearly a 100 ne­go­tia­tors to Brus­sels yes­ter­day in a bu­reau­cratic show of force that saw our Brexit ne­go­ti­at­ing team out­num­ber their EU coun­ter­parts two-to-one.

Af­ter months of goad­ing from the Euro­pean Union that the UK was fail­ing to fully en­gage, the 98-strong team of of­fi­cials from across White­hall ar­rived for the first sub­stan­tive face-to­face talks at the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

The de­ploy­ment was lost in the main im­age of the open­ing day of talks, how­ever, af­ter David Davis and Olivier Rob­bins, the UK’S top Brexit of­fi­cials, were pho­tographed fac­ing Michel Barnier in a meet­ing room but without any doc­u­ments. Taken min­utes be­fore Mr Davis jet­ted back to Lon­don for a Par­lia­men­tary vote, the EU’S top ne­go­tia­tors struck stern ex­pres­sions be­hind their thick sheaves of pa­per, while the Bri­tish team grinned for the cam­era but with their side of the ta­ble empty.

The im­age pro­voked a del­uge of com­ment on so­cial me­dia about the lack of pre­pared­ness for the talks. UK staff later in­sisted the photo was taken be­fore they had un­packed their bags.

“We have less than 20 months of Brexit talks left, yet David Davis has skulked back to the UK af­ter just half a day,” said Tom Brake, the Lib­eral Demo­crat Brexit spokesman. “He didn’t have any po­si­tion pa­pers with him be­cause this govern­ment has no agreed Brexit po­si­tion.”

Labour was also crit­i­cal of Mr Davis who spent less than three hours in Brus­sels, in­clud­ing a one-to-one meet­ing with Mr Barnier to dis­cuss the ob­jec­tives of the week, which of­fi­cials de­scribed as “friendly”. “Mr Davis can hardly say this is the time ‘to get down to busi­ness’ and then spend only a few min­utes in Brus­sels be­fore head­ing back to White­hall,” said Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit sec­re­tary.

Be­fore the Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors got down to busi­ness, start­ing with a “line by line” re­but­tal of the EU’S de­mand for a gross €100 bil­lion fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment, they were given a rous­ing pep talk by Mr Rob­bins.

“Ol­lie was very clear. ‘This is the big­gest thing any of you will ever do in your ca­reer’, he said. ‘So let’s get it right’,” re­ported a source who was present. Mr Davis’s re­turned to Lon­don to vote on a Pri­vate Mem­bers’ Bill in the Com­mons, which pro­vided a re­minder of the Govern­ment’s pre­car­i­ous ma­jor­ity. Labour has promised to dou­ble the num­ber of such Bills in this Par­lia­ment.

The Brexit talks will this week cen­tre on the three ma­jor is­sues: EU cit­i­zens’ rights, the bor­der with Ire­land and the so-called Brexit Bill.

Mr Barnier has said “suf­fi­cient progress” must be made on these three dossiers in or­der to progress on to talks over trade and the fu­ture EU-UK re­la­tion­ship. Sources on the UK side ex­pect the most dif­fi­cult of these to be money, with Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors re­fus­ing to dis­cuss what Britain might pay un­til the Euro­pean side ex­plains the le­gal ra­tio­nale for de­mands the UK side con­sid­ers out­landish.

Across town, mean­while, Boris John­son was at­tend­ing a meet­ing of EU for­eign min­is­ters, tak­ing time out to josh with An­ders Sa­muelsen, his Dan­ish coun­ter­part, about the prospect for trade af­ter Brexit, af­ter the Dan­ish for­eign min­is­ter ar­rived in a camper van from which he in­tends to fol­low the Tour de France cy­cle race this sum­mer.

Doc­u­ment-less David Davis, right, across the ta­ble from EU coun­ter­part Michel Barnier – Mr Davis flew back home af­ter three hours

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.