Theresa May takes back control of Brexit negotiations as Dominic Raab sidelined
Theresa May today performed an astonishing power grab as she formally took charge of the Brexit negotiations and downgraded Dominic Raab to the position of her deputy.
In a move certain to rile her pro-Brexit backbenchers, the Prime Minister said the Department for Exiting the European Union would be relegated to overseeing the domestic preparations for quitting the EU.
It comes as she battles to sell her blueprint for Brexit to her party and the country - and just two weeks after Mr Raab was appointed to the position of Brexit Secretary.
In a written statement slipped out this afternoon, Mrs May declared: “I will lead the negotiations with the European Union, with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union deputising on my behalf.”
She said the Europe Unit in the Cabinet Office would have “overall responsibility for the preparation and conduct of the negotiations” and would be merely supported by DExEU.
And she said staff would be shunted from the Brexit department to the Cabinet Office - although they will be replaced with new personnel to prepare the nation for quitting the EU.
The Prime Minister added: “It is essential that in navigating the UK's exit from the European Union, the Government is organised in the most effective way.”
The shift formally boosts the power of Olly Robbins - a top Brexit adviser to Mrs May who anti-EU Tories are deeply sceptical of.
Mr Robbins is frequently accused of being pro-Remain and trying to water down the Government plans for Brexit.
Appearing at the Brexit Committee this afternoon, Mr Raab insisted the Prime Minister had always led the negotiations, adding: "I'm the number two."
Pressed on whether he had been sidelined in favour or Mr Robbins, he added: "There’s no tension between us, I think that’s clear."
The Government has until October to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU in time for the UK parliament and parliaments around the continent to ratify it.
But the Chequers plan drawn up by Mrs May and agreed by the Cabinet has faced fierce criticism for offering too close an arrangement with the bloc.
The EU has offered a more muted response to the proposals - but has argued they leave a string of key questions unanswered.