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Global Times

Britain to boycott most EU meetings from Sept 1, gov't says

Global Times

Source:Xinhua Published: 2019/8/21 7:34:15

British ministers and officials will boycott most European Union (EU) meetings from Sept 1, the British government announced Tuesday.

"From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours," British Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said.

The announcement came in the latest Brexit development as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces fresh warnings over hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland of Britain.

British ministers will only attend big summits and those covering essential interests like security. The rest will be ignored, sending a clear message that Britain is serious about leaving the regional group at the end of October.

They will use the "incredible amount of time" saved to focus on future relationship with the EU and other countries, including trade deals.

With Brexit due in 72 days, many discussions in EU meetings will be about the future of the union after Britain has left, making British participation irrelevant, British officials said.

"An incredible amount of time and effort goes into EU meetings with attendance just the tip of the iceberg," Barclay sid. "Our diligent, world-class officials also spend many hours preparing for them whether in reading the necessary papers or working on briefings."

"This will free up time for ministers and their officials to get on with preparing for our departure on Oct. 31 and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead," he said.

In a letter to the EU on Monday night, Johnson made a request to strip the backstop out of the Brexit deal, saying that it was "anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK."

In response, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, rejected Johnson's request, with a thinly veiled message that the British government is refusing to admit the lack of realistic alternatives.

Downing Street hit back at Tusk on Tuesday afternoon saying Britain was still ready to negotiate an alternative and that no infrastructure, checks or controls would be placed at the Irish border.

The EU response underlines the stalemate over the backstop. The British government agreed the backstop under Theresa May, but hardline Brexiters have long called for it to be scrapped or made subject to a time limit.

Also on Monday night, Johnson clashed with Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, in their one-hour phone conversation over the backstop, which will keep Britain in a customs union and the single market after Brexit until a solution is found to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The Monday phone call ended with neither side agreeing a way forward.

The British prime minister, who vowed to take his country out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, has made the removal of the backstop a central part of his plan to carry out Brexit.

Johnson is expected to head to Berlin for dinner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday before lunch in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday to persuade both of them to agree that the EU should remove the backstop.

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