British officials will stop attending most EU meetings from September, the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, has said, suggesting his department will slash attendance by more than half to “unshackle” officials and ministers, The Guardian reports.
The government will only send officials to EU meetings at which the UK has “a significant national interest in the outcome of discussions, such as on security” and will instead focus on countries outside the bloc.
Barclay said the numbers of meetings attended would be cut by more than half, dramatically reducing workload and preparation time.
“An incredible amount of time and effort goes into EU meetings, with attendance just the tip of the iceberg. Our diligent, world-class officials also spend many hours preparing for them whether in reading the necessary papers or working on briefings,” he 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 31 October and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead.”
The move is likely to prompt concerns that British officials will be left in the dark about EU strategy. The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) claimed most discussions at the meetings that Britain would no longer attend would be irrelevant because they would be focused on the future of the EU after the UK left.
One EU diplomat described the decision as “stupid”, and said: “There are rules that you could influence that will always have an impact on you whatever happens. I would participate in those meetings.”
But a British government spokesman said: “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.”
Officials would be told to refocus on preparations for leaving the EU and on trade deals with other countries.