BRITAIN STARTS TO WALK AWAY FROM EU
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