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Boris Johnson to take personal charge of post-Brexit trade talks as Number 10 unveils 'Taskforce Europe'

Boris Johnson to take personal charge of post-Brexit trade talks as Number 10 unveils 'Taskforce Europe'
3 min read

Boris Johnson will take personal charge of the next phase of Brexit talks with a new 'Taskforce Europe' team working under him, Downing Street has announced.

Number 10 said the "small and agile" team of 40 staff, which would be led by chief negotiator David Frost, will have responsibility for negotiating future agreements with Brussels and would be up and running once the UK leaves the EU this Friday.

The Government has already confirmed that the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), which led on divorce talks with Brussels, will cease to exist from 11pm on 31 January, although the Cabinet fate of Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay remains unclear.

The Prime Minister's spokesperson said: "The negotiations on the future relationship with the EU will be led from a Taskforce Europe team within Number 10. 

"Taskforce Europe is a small and agile unit of around 40 people which will be headed up by David Frost, reporting directly to the Prime Minister."

The new team will include deputies from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury, Downing Street said, with the unit intended to "work closely with departments across Whitehall on specific policy areas" affected by the EU.

The Cabinet Office will meanwhile take on DExEU's responsibility for putting the Withdrawal Agreement into place as well as preparing for the end of the existing transition period of close alignment with the EU, which Mr Johnson has vowed not to extend and which expires at the end of this year.

Sir Tim Barrow, who is currently the UK's Permanent Representative to the EU, will become the UK's ambassador to the bloc, while the body he heads up - known as UKRep - will switch to being known as the UK Mission to the European Union.

Number 10 said: "The UK will seek to deepen our relationships across the world with future partners and ministers and to do this you can expect ministers to undertake travel to support this ambition by visiting countries around the world."

The latest Whitehall shake-up comes after Theresa May's former top Europe adviser urged Mr Johnson to learn the lessons of the former PM's time in office.

Raoul Raparel, who spent a year as Mrs May's special adviser on Europe and previously advised David Davis as Brexit Secretary, said the Prime Minister could secure a limited agreement by late 2020 with strong "central political direction".

Writing for the Institute for Government late last year, the former aide said: "There urgently needs to be central political direction and decisions on the detail of the future relationship and the overarching strategy for the next phase - this should all then be turned into legal text as soon as possible (to help the UK get on the front foot)."

Number 10 confirmed that the new team was likely to be staffed by a mixture of experience Whitehall officials and new recruits from outside government.

Mr Johnson is expected to spell out his negotiating objectives for  talks with the EU the coming weeks. 

Cabinet ministers have already signaled that the UK will look to diverge from many EU rules and standards as it seeks a Canada-style free trade deal with the bloc.

But that has prompted warnings from EU leaders that Britain must be prepared to lose market access, with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week speaking out against a "piecemeal" approach to a deal.

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