Ministers accused of ‘prematurely leaving the decision-making table’ at EU

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Stephen Barclay leaves after a cabinet meeting at

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Stephen Barclay leaves after a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

UK officials have been accused of allowing Britain to become 'rule-takers' at the European Union after Brexit department announced they would stop attending most meetings.

The government's Brexit department claimed that 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."

Civil servants and ministers will now only attend EU meetings where the UK has a significant national interest in the outcome of discussions, such as on security.

The department added that the UK will continue to be present at the EU until October 31st, and said the move avoids frustrating "the functioning of the EU".

The government has requested that the president of the European parliament exercises the vote on the UK's behalf.

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Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, said: "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."

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But Liberal Democrat MP and Best for Britain supporter Tom Brake said it was "another instance of the government shooting itself in the foot."

He said: "We don't know what our relationship with the EU will be like in the future. We have yet to agree any kind of deal with the EU that can pass through parliament. No-deal has been categorically rejected by parliament, and has no mandate from the public. Yet we're now prematurely leaving the decision-making table.

"Brexit sounds the death-knell for British influence abroad. This government announcement points to Britain becoming a nation of rule-takers."

Martin Whitfield MP, a People's Vote campaign, said: "The last few days have revealed the true colours of this government and the narrow vision they have for the UK and its place in the world.

"The No Deal Brexit being peddled by Boris Johnson will lead to chaos and confusion at our ports, on our roads and in our food supply. We have a prime minister who is prepared to play fast and loose with peace in Ireland and readily sacrifice businesses who rely on European trade or hard-working EU employees.

"And today brings us the great flounce, as UK ministers and officials are told to pack their bags, switch off their phones and stop talking to our EU colleagues. It is a pitiful retreat from our position at the heart of European decision-making."

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