British officials will withdraw from most EU meetings from September, the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, has announced.
“Brexit begins,” cheered the Daily Express, as it was revealed that Britain will only send diplomats to EU meetings at which the UK has “a significant national interest in the outcome of discussions, such as on security”.
Instead, the diplomats and other civil servants will be asked to focus on building relationships with other trading partners around the world.
According to the Evening Standard, the move will “send a clear message that Britain is serious about quitting at the end of October”.
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.”
The Guardian says the move is “likely to prompt concerns that British officials will be left in the dark about EU strategy” but with Brexit due in 72 days, many discussions in EU meetings will be about the future of the Union after the UK has left. Officials say this makes British participation irrelevant.
Indeed, government sources insist the decision is not intended to disrupt the functioning of the EU but simply to reflect the reality that the UK will depart soon.
A government spokesman said: “As a departing member state it makes sense to ‘unshackle’ officials from these EU meetings to enable them to better focus their talents on our immediate national priorities.”
However, one EU diplomat described the decision as “stupid”, saying: “There are rules that you could influence that will always have an impact on you whatever happens. I would participate in those meetings.”
The government will cede its vote to Finland, the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, according to a letter to EU diplomats from Boris Johnson’s EU envoy, David Frost.
The letter, published in The Guardian, says: “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.
“We are very grateful to you as presidency for agreeing to exercise our vote, if necessary, at meetings which we do not attend.”