, LONDON, United Kingdom, Jul 24 – Prime Minister Theresa May announced Tuesday she will take personal control of Brexit negotiations with the EU, as time runs out to get a deal before Britain leaves the bloc in March.
“I will lead the negotiations with the European Union, with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Dominic Raab) deputising on my behalf,” she said in a statement to parliament.
Raab was appointed on July 9 after his predecessor, David Davis, quit in protest at May’s plan for close economic ties with the EU.
Before he left, Davis had been increasingly sidelined and had spent little time with the EU’s top negotiator Michel Barnier in recent months.
Instead, May’s Brexit adviser Olly Robbins, a senior civil servant, was increasingly been seen as the man in charge.
Giving evidence to a committee of MPs shortly after May’s announcement, Robbins denied the prime minister would be directly negotiating with Barnier in Brussels.
“I doubt it,” he said when asked the question, adding that the “key interlocutor” would be Raab.
Raab told the same committee that he and Robbins had been working “very closely together from day one to make sure there is one team”.
Raab went to Brussels last week where he met Barnier and agreed the need to step up negotiations, which have become stalled in recent months in a row over the Irish border.
He said he still hoped to get a deal by October, to allow its ratification by the European and British parliaments before Brexit in March 2019.
Another meeting is planned with Barnier this week, Raab said, adding that he hoped to see him again throughout the coming months.
In her written statement to parliament, May said: “It is essential that in navigating the UK’s exit from the European Union, the government is organised in the most effective way.”
She said Raab’s Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU), which was set up after the 2016 referendum to lead the Brexit process, would be refocused on domestic preparations, including for no deal being struck with Brussels.
The Cabinet Office, the department which supports the prime minister, “will have overall responsibility for the preparation and conduct of the negotiations”.