Monday 20 November 2017

UK sends army of 98 negotiators as Brexit talks begin

The 98-strong team of officials from across Whitehall arrived for the first substantive talks at the European Commission. Stock picture
The 98-strong team of officials from across Whitehall arrived for the first substantive talks at the European Commission. Stock picture

Peter Foster Brussels

Britain deployed nearly 100 negotiators to Brussels yesterday in a bureaucratic show of force that saw its Brexit negotiating team outnumber its EU counterpart two-to-one.

After months of goading from the European Union that the UK was failing to fully engage, the 98-strong team of officials from across Whitehall arrived for the first substantive talks at the European Commission.

The deployment was lost in the main image of the opening day of talks, however, after David Davis and Olivier Robbins, the UK's top Brexit officials, were photographed facing Michel Barnier in a meeting room without any documents.

Taken minutes before Mr Davis jetted back to London for a parliamentary vote, the EU's top negotiators struck stern expressions behind their thick sheaves of paper, as the British team grinned for the camera with their side of the table empty. The image provoked a deluge of comment on social media about the lack of preparedness for the talks. UK staff later insisted the photo was taken before they had unpacked.

"We have less than 20 months of Brexit talks left, yet David Davis has skulked back to the UK after just half a day," said Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman. "He didn't have any position papers with him because this government has no agreed Brexit position."

Labour was also critical of Mr Davis, who spent less than three hours in Brussels, including a one-to-one meeting with Mr Barnier to discuss the objectives of the week, which officials described as "friendly". "Mr Davis can hardly say this is the time 'to get down to business' and then spend only a few minutes in Brussels before heading back to Whitehall," said Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary.

Before the British negotiators got down to business, starting with a "line by line" rebuttal of the EU's demand for a gross €100bn financial settlement, they were given a rousing pep talk by Mr Robbins. A source who was present reported him as saying: "This is the biggest thing any of you will ever do in your career. So let's get it right." (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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