Whatever the outcome of the latest round of Brexit negotiations being held in Brussels today, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has reached a landmark simply by turning up.
This is the third time that Raab will have met the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, since replacing David Davis in the wake of the Cabinet walkout by opponents of the ‘Chequers plan.’
That means he’s met his EU counterpart as many times as his predecessor managed in 2018 – but in a much shorter time.
Raab and Barnier held an introductory meeting on July 19, where they exchanged books as well as the predictable platitudes about negotiations.
The Conservative MP was back in Brussels for a second meeting just a week later on July 26.
And, with both sides wanting to prove they’re working hard on a Brexit deal over the summer, Raab arrived today for his third meeting with Barnier in the space of just 34 days.
By contrast, David Davis managed three meetings with Barnier in the first six months – or to be precise 189 days – of 2018.
The first of those meetings, on February 5, required Barnier to travel to London.
Davis made it to Brussels for the first time in 2018 on March 19 for a meeting over breakfast that lasted less than an hour.
Davis’s third and final meeting with Barnier before his departure came on June 9 – shortly before the Chequers summit which sparked his resignation.
The Financial Times calculated that Davis spent just four hours in talks with Barnier this year.
The government insisted Davis was in regular contact with his counterpart, but also had to oversee domestic preparations for Brexit as well as visiting other EU member states.
That didn’t stop complaints about his lack of one-to-one engagement with Barnier on both sides of the Channel though.
In Westminster, pro-Brexit politicians worried that the talks were being led by civil servants – specifically Theresa May’s Brexit advisor Olly Robbins.
In Brussels, the European Commission’s chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told Yahoo UK: “Experience shows that commitment at political level facilitates the process.”
The paucity of contact under Davis has only been further highlighted by the quickening pace of top-level talks since Raab took over as Brexit Secretary.
Raab has met Barnier on average around once every 11 days this year, while Davis met him once every 63 days.
Yahoo UK asked the European Commission today what lay behind the huge disparity in the frequency of talks under Davis and Raab.
Had the Commission simply not asked for this level of engagement under Davis or are the talks picking up the pace naturally as the deadline for a deal approached?
A spokesperson said pointedly: “The chief negotiator and his team have always been fully available and ready here in Brussels every single day since day one.”