Brexit talks: Who's who

Written by Martin Banks on 19 June 2017 in News
News

Get to know the key figures in both sides' negotiating teams. 

The senior UK civil servant who is expected to play a key role in the just launched Brexit talks with the EU could be “handicapped” by a perceived lack of EU experience, it has been  claimed.
 
Oliver Robbins, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU, is UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Sherpa” in the negotiations, which officially started on Monday.
 
Robbins has responsibility for supporting the department in its negotiations to leave the bloc and establishing the future relationship with the EU.

The 42 year old is the lead UK civil service representative in the negotiations but critics have said his lack of EU experience could be a disadvantage to the UK side as the talks continue towards Britain’s planned March 2019 exit date.
 
One Brussels-based  source said, “He is known for his background in intelligence and security but, in all honesty, that’s all. These are going to be very drawn out and complicated negotiations and his general lack of experience in EU affairs could prove to be a handicap.”

Previously, Robbins was the Second Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, where he had responsibility for immigration and free movement policy, and oversight of the borders, immigration and citizenship system.
 
Other senior members on the UK side include Sir Tim Barrow, British Permanent Representative to the EU since January and who has had a 30-year diplomatic career.He previously served as the UK’s ambassador to Moscow.

Before that he worked at the UK Representation to the EU (UKRep) as representative to the Political and Security Committee of the EU from 2008 to 2011. His earlier EU experience includes spells as an Assistant Director in the Europe Directorate and a First Secretary in UKRep.
 
Other key UK members include Philip Rycroft, Second Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU since April who also has responsibility for constitutional and devolution issues and Alex Ellis, Director General at the same department.

A UK government spokesman said his focus is on the EU institutions and member states.
 
Previously a British ambassador to Brazil, Ellis has extensive EU experience as a member of the cabinet of the President of the European Commission (with responsibility for energy, climate change, competition, development, trade and strategy).
 
Before that, he worked in the UKRep working on the negotiations to establish the euro, the seven year budget, and then institutional issues including the Treaty of Nice. He was also the Whitehall coordinator for the enlargement negotiations which concluded in 2003.

Another member is Mark Bowman, Director General for International Finance at the UK Treasury where he has responsibility for advancing the UK’s economic and financial interests both internationally and in the EU. He is also the UK’s finance deputy at the G7 and G20.
 
Other members of the British team include Simon Case,Director General for the UK-EU Partnership who is responsible for establishing a future “deep and special” partnership with the EU, and Glyn Williams, a Director General at the Home Office where he is responsible for policy in the UK’s Border, Immigration and Citizenship System.

He has worked on immigration policy since 2010, including the reforms to the legal migration routes for non-EEA nationals.
 
Another UK member is Catherine Webb, Director of Market Access and Budget at the Department for Exiting the EU and a former economic and trade counsellor at the British Embassy in Beijing.
 
Mark Philip Sedwill, National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister since April, a former UK ambassador to Afghanistan and NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan in 2010, is also on the UK negotiating team.

Heading the UK side is Tory MP David Davis, a 68-year-old political veteran.  He will be Britain’s principal negotiator in Brussels but will leave detailed talks to senior civil servants. He is a former sugar industry executive and reservist in Britain’s elite SAS.
 
The EU side includes Sabine Weyand, the deputy chief EU negotiator and, according to a UK colleague, a German trade negotiator with “the brainpower of a nuclear reactor.”
 
Her role is supporting Michel Barnier,who heads the EU side, and handling issues at the point where technical complexity and high politics converge. She is a European commission veteran but before joining spent a year at the University of Cambridge.

Didier Seeuws is head of European Council Brexit task force. According to an EU source, the role for the 51-year-old Flemish diplomat is to “help keep the EU27 united.”
 
The Ghent born diplomat is a former chief of staff to Herman Van Rompuy, the former European Council president.
 
Others sure to have a key influence include Martin Selmayr, the powerful chief of staff to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker; Piotr Serafin,chief of staff to council president Donald Tusk, and Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, a Danish diplomat instrumental in shaping Britain’s pre-referendum deal.

Key figures from parliament, which must sign off any Brexit deal, will be Manfred Weber, the German leader of the EPP, and Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian liberal co-ordinating the parliament’s Brexit work.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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