UK officials will stop attending most EU meetings from 1 September, the Department for Exiting the European Union has announced.
Civil servants and ministers will “only attend EU meetings where the UK has a significant national interest in the outcome of discussions, such as on security”, the department said yesterday afternoon.
DExEU said the move was "not intended in any way to frustrate the functioning of the EU" but would enable civil servants to “focus on [the UK’s] future relationship with the EU and other partners around the world”.
“This decision reflects the fact that the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 October is now very close and many of the discussions in EU meetings will be about the future of the union after the UK has left,” it said.
The move will reduce the number of meetings UK civil servants and ministers attend “by over half”, Brexit secretary Steve Barclay said in a statement.
“An incredible amount of time and effort goes into EU meetings, with attendance just the tip of the iceberg,” Barclay said.
“Our diligent, world-class officials also spend many hours preparing for them whether in reading the necessary papers or working on briefings.”
The move would save “hundreds of hours”, which officials would be able to put towards preparing for Brexit, Barclay said.
The announcement appears to follow through on a promise by Boris Johnson to pull civil servants out of Brussels to concentrate on Brexit preparations.
In his first address to the House of Commons after he was elected prime minister last month, Johnson said: "Today there are very many brilliant UK officials, trapped in meeting after meeting in Brussels and Luxembourg when they could be better deploying their talents in preparing to pioneer new free trade deals or promoting a truly global Britain, and I want to start unshackling our officials to undertake this new mission right away.”
Johnson also said the UK would “under no circumstances” nominate a commissioner to the EU for the European Commission taking office on 1 December.