Theresa May is going back to Brussels hoping to renegotiate changes to the Irish backstop but to the ire of Brexiteers will not change her team of officials
Leading Brexiteers claimed they had received assurances from Downing Street that two seasoned trade negotiators would be brought in to bolster the UK’s team in Brussels.
But they reacted angrily after No10 said the line-up of officials would not change. Mrs May has said attempts to win concessions from the EU would be led by herself and three leading ministers.
Eurosceptic MPs want the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN and WTO in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, and Crawford Falconer, a seasoned trade negotiator based in the International Trade department, to be brought in.
One MP said Mrs May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, told members of the European Research Group of Brexiteers ahead of Tuesday’s crunch vote, that Mr Falconer would be installed.
Others suggested Mrs May herself had hinted at such a move at a meeting with backbenchers.
Last night one Downing Street source blamed a ‘misunderstanding’.
Speaking to reporters after Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May’s spokesman said: ‘In terms of the Civil Service side, the team remains the same. The Civil Service team, which is led by Olly Robbins, remains the same.’
Brexit European Commission’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier (right) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 30 January 2019
Last night ERG deputy chairman Steve Baker said: ‘Excluding our chief trade negotiation adviser from our principal trade negotiation is a longstanding mistake which should be rectified now.’
Appearing before the European Scrutiny Committee, he added: ‘My experience in Government tells me that our chief trade negotiation adviser, Crawford Falconer, has been cut out of our chief trade negotiation. And that is a stupid mistake.’
Earlier in the day, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News he understood Mrs May was bringing Mr Falconer in. He called it a ‘really important change’.
Lead negotiator Olly Robbins has drawn the ire of a large number of Brexiteers over his handling of talks with Michel Barnier and his team.
Lead negotiator Olly Robbins (pictured) has drawn the ire of a large number of Brexiteers over his handling of talks with Barnier