UK ran around like idiots in Brexit negotiations

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Media captionTimmermans: “It’s like Lance Corporal Jones: ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic’… running around like idiots”

UK ministers were “running around like idiots” when they arrived to negotiate Brexit in 2017, a top EU official says.

The EU Commission’s First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, said he expected a “Harry Potter-like book of tricks” from ministers.

But he told BBC’s Panorama that, instead, they were like Lance Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army.

Panorama: Britain’s Brexit Crisis is due to be broadcast on BBC One on Thursday at 21:00 BST.

Negotiations between the UK and EU began in 2017 after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the Article 50 process to leave the bloc.

At the end of 2018, a withdrawal agreement was settled between the two sides and EU officials said the matter was closed.

But MPs voted against the plan three times, which led to a number of delays to the exit date – now set for 31 October.

In an interview in March 2019 with the BBC’s Nick Robinson, Mr Timmermans said he found it “shocking” how unprepared the UK team was when it began negotiations.

“We thought they are so brilliant,” he said. “That in some 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 after seeing the then-Brexit Secretary David Davis – who resigned over his disagreements with the deal – speaking in public, his mind changed.

“I saw him not coming, not negotiating, grandstanding elsewhere [and] I thought, ‘Oh my God, they haven’t got a plan, they haven’t got a plan.’

“That was really shocking, frankly, because the damage if you don’t have a plan…

“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.”

‘Playing games’

Mr Timmermans – interviewed two months before Mrs May announced her resignation – also criticised Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit negotiations from when they began.

“Perhaps I am being a bit harsh, but it is about time we became a bit harsh. I am not sure he was being genuine,” he said.

“I have always had the impression he is playing games.”

Mr Johnson was asked for an interview by Panorama, but he declined.

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