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British negotiators ran around 'like idiots' during Brexit talks, claims EU chief

2 min read

British ministers were "running around like idiots" at the start of the Brexit negotiations, top EU official Frans Timmermans has claimed.

In a scathing attack on the UK's negotiating team, the EU Commission's first Vice President compared former Brexit Secretary David Davis to bumbling Dad's Army character Lance Corporal Jones.

Speaking to the BBC's Panorama programme, set to be aired on Thursday, the top EU boss said he had expected a "Harry Potter-like book of tricks" from ministers, but was left "shocked" by their approach.

He said: "We thought they are so brilliant. That in a vault somewhere in Westminster there will be a Harry Potter-like book with all the tricks and all the things in it to do."

But the senior EU official said he changed his mind after seeing "grandstanding" Brexit Secretary David Davis.

"I saw him not coming [to Brussels], not negotiating, grandstanding elsewhere and I thought, 'oh my God, they haven't got a plan, they haven't got a plan," he said.

Mr Timmermans added: "That was really shocking frankly because the damage if you don't have a plan - you know, we see it - time's running out and you don't have a plan, it's like Lance Corporal Jones, you know, 'Don't panic, don't panic!' Running around like idiots."

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Timmermans accused Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson of "playing games" during the Brexit negotiations.

"It's about time we became a bit harsh, because I am not sure he was being genuine," Mr Timmermans said.

"I always had the impression he was playing games."

Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have vowed to renegotiate a fresh agreement with Brussels ahead of the 31 deadline if they become Prime Minister.

Speaking at a leadership hustings on Tuesday, both contenders commited to dumping the controversial Irish backstop proposals, aimed at ensuring there remains an open border with Ireland after Brexit.

"It needs to come out," Mr Johnson said. "No time limits or unilateral escape hatches or all those kind of elaborate devices, glosses, codicils and so on that you could apply to the backstop."

Mr Hunt added: "The backstop as it is, is dead, so I agree with Boris - I don't think tweaking with a time limit to do the trick, we've got to find a new way."

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