Boris Johnson to form 'Taskforce Europe' to take charge of EU trade talks

Written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster on 3 January 2020 in News
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Unit set to be formed in the Cabinet Office following DExEU abolition

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Boris Johnson is preparing to set up a dedicated Brexit team by the end of this month as he seeks to take control of talks on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union.

The unit – reportedly dubbed ‘Taskforce Europe’ – will replace the Department for Exiting the European Union when it shuts down on 31 January, when Britain is due to leave the EU.

According to both The Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday, the team will be run from the heart of government in No.10 and the Cabinet Office, with personal oversight from the prime minister.


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This is in line with a recommendation by the Institute for Government last month that DExEU's functions should be allocated to the Cabinet Office because the prime minister, rather than any departmental secretary of state, will be the ultimate decision maker in talks with the EU on the future trading relationship.

The move is one of a number of planned post-Brexit machinery of government changes, with several departments set to be merged or rebadged. Proposals include breaking up the Home Office and abolishing the Department for International Development.

The unit will be led by Johnson’s most senior Europe adviser David Frost and will be responsible for implementing the withdrawal agreement as well as leading on negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the EU.

The naming of the group mirrors that of the EU side, which has set up its own "Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom". 

A government source said: "In 2020, we will move forward to establish a future relationship and free-trade agreement with the EU.

"Following the election, the government has a clear and renewed mandate to achieve this. We want our new relationship to be based on an ambitious free-trade agreement, and a close friendship between sovereign equals."

The reports come after the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, cast doubt on Johnson's timetable for agreeing a pact.

Britain is due to remain in a transition period with the EU, staying broadly aligned with its rules, until the end of 2020. Johnson has vowed not to extend that period, fixing a deadline to discussions on the deal that will replace it.

Von der Leyen, who took over from Jean-Claude Juncker in December, said she had “serious concern” over the limited time available for the second round of talks.

She told French newspaper Les Echos: "It’s not only about negotiating a free-trade deal but many other subjects."

The commission president added: "It seems to me that on both sides we must ask ourselves seriously if all these negotiations are feasible in such a short time."

But government sources told the Mail on Sunday that her comments were "tactics and bluster" and argued that any "genuinely held concerns about timing" should have been raised during talks on the withdrawal agreement.

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Matt Honeycombe-Foster
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Matt Honeycombe-Foster is the news editor of PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @matt_hfoster

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