PM’s Bureaucrats Officially Take Charge of Brexit Talks, Brexit Department Snubbed

Olly Robbins
Getty Images

The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) will officially no longer lead the Brexit negotiations with Brussels, with Downing Street and Civil Service bureaucrats taking control of talks.

In a statement, published hours before MPs go on a six-week summer break and euphemistically called “Machinery of Government Change”, Prime Minister Theresa May revealed the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab had been effectively demoted, declaring:

“I will lead the negotiations with the European Union… supported by the Cabinet Office Europe Unit,” which is largely led by Olly Robbins (pictured above, right), the Prime Minister’s chief Brexit adviser.

Mr Robbins is a career civil servant, former adviser to Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, and admirer of the Soviet Union who is widely accused of pushing a “soft Brexit”.

The statement adds that 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”.

At Parliament’s Exiting the European Union Committee, moments after the announcement, Conservative MP John Whittingdale joked that Mr Robbins and Brexit secretary Dominic Raab should “swap places” as the bureaucrat was essentially in charge of Brexit instead of the secretary of state.

Last week, Mr Robbins quietly purged the DExEU of 50 of its best negotiating staff, securing himself more power in Whitehall and over Brexit ahead of the official power grab.

Earlier this month, he and the Cabinet Office had played down claims they would sideline or even abolish DExEU as it was too pro-Brexit and working on plans for a clean Brexit.

The former Brexit secretary and head of DExEU, David Davis, resigned in July in protest of Mrs May’s Chequers plan for a “soft Brexit”, insisting it was a betrayal of the referendum result.

Mr Davis has since argued that his ideas for keeping the Irish border open without locking the UK to EU rules on goods — as the Chequers plan demands — were ignored.

His special adviser, Stewart Jackson, who also left his job, has gone further, implying there was a “conspiracy” to stall talks and shut out his department from Brexit preparations as they were drawing up plans for a clear Brexit.

In an interview with Conservative Home website, Mr Jackson said the Chequers plan raises “very serious questions of constitutional propriety” as it was drawn up by Europe Unit bureaucrats who made “undertakings to Brussels” without proper political oversight.

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