By Elizabeth Piper and Estelle Shirbon
Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed Britain’s top official at its Brexit ministry as her EU adviser to “strengthen cross government coordination of the next phase of talks with the European Union”, a government spokesman said on Monday.
May, whose position was weakened after losing her governing Conservative Party’s majority at a June election, has been criticised for failing to give clear instructions to her negotiating team in the talks.
Robbins will be replaced as permanent secretary of the Brexit ministry by his second-in-command there, Philip Rycroft.
“In order to strengthen cross Government co-ordination of the next phase of negotiations with the European Union, the Prime Minister has appointed Oliver Robbins as her EU Adviser in the Cabinet Office, in addition to his role as EU Sherpa,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“(Robbins) will continue to lead the official-side UK team in the negotiations, working closely with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and coordinate relations with the Commission and Member States.”
Robbins, considered one of the key figures at the heart of Britain’s plans for leaving the bloc, had been in the job at the Brexit ministry since shortly after it was set up following the EU referendum in June 2016.
The Evening Standard newspaper, which broke news of his job change, reported that it followed disagreements between the influential official and Brexit minister David Davis, Britain’s chief negotiator in talks with the European Union.
The newspaper quoted Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour Party’s Brexit policy chief, as saying the move by Robbins was a sign of “chaos” within the government.
“Moving key individuals at this critical time adds a whole new dimension to the government’s chaotic approach to Brexit. Deep divisions in the cabinet and a complete lack of leadership are putting the national interest at risk,” Starmer was quoted as saying.