Theresa May has announced she is to take control of negotiations with the EU, with Dominic Raab’s department effectively relegated to planning for no deal.
Just 15 days after replacing David Davis as Brexit secretary – during which Mr Raab boasted he would use August to “intensify” and “get some energy into” talks – Mrs May confirmed in a ministerial statement today that he would be planning for no deal while she led negotiations.
Mr Raab will deputise for Mrs May, with both being supported by the Cabinet Office Europe Unit led by Olly Robbins – just days after pro-Brexit newspapers reported Mr Raab had demanded Mr Robbins be “reined in” and the former was “taking back control”.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said it showed “how wafer thin [Mrs May’s] confidence in the new DExEU [Department for Exiting the European Union] minister is”.
In her statement, the prime minister said that it was “essential that in navigating the UK’s exit from the European Union, the government is organised in the most effective way”.
She said: “To that end I am making some changes to the division of functions between the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Cabinet Office.
“DExEU will continue to lead on all of the government’s preparations for Brexit: domestic preparations in both a deal and a no-deal scenario, all of the necessary legislation, and preparations for the negotiations to implement the detail of the Future Framework.
“To support this, DExEU will recruit some new staff, and a number of Cabinet Office officials coordinating work on preparedness will move to DExEU while maintaining close ties with both departments.
“I will lead the negotiations with the European Union, with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union deputising on my behalf.
“Both of us will be supported by the Cabinet Office Europe Unit and with this in mind the Europe Unit will have overall responsibility for the preparation and conduct of the negotiations, drawing upon support from DExEU and other departments as required. A number of staff will transfer from DExEU to the Cabinet Office to deliver that.”
Just last week the Brexit-cheerleading Daily Express quoted a source close to Mr Raab boasting how the new secretary of state was reining in Mr Robbins, a civil servant who is a bête noire of hardline Brexiteers.
The source said: ‘The deal is that every document from Olly Robbins to the Prime Minister has to go through Dom now – which often didn’t happen in the past.
‘Every meeting, Dom will attend, which hardly ever happened before.’
The source added: ‘He is taking back control.’
Mrs Moran, a champion of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign group and tipped as a future Lib Dem leader, said: “It’s a demotion for Dominic Raab – we can all see that. The prime minister has shown how wafer thin her confidence in the new DExEU minister is, launching a desperate attempt to take back control – two years late. “We know DExEU is a huge waste of money. Now we’re going to be wasting money on a whole department to prepare for the increasingly likely no deal nightmare. Let’s scrap all of this rubbish and concentrate on safeguarding jobs, our public services and the future prosperity of this country. “We need a people’s vote with the option to stay in the EU.”