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Man behind Theresa May’s Brexit deal to quit as negotiations get shake-up | Politics News

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The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, who jokingly once asked for EU citizenship, will quit his role this summer.

Olly Robbins is rumoured to be taking a job in the City shortly after the new prime minister replaces his current boss, Theresa May.

Civil servant Mr Robbins played a key role in bringing together Mrs May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which was voted down three times in parliament.

He made headlines himself when a BBC documentary revealed he asked Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, how he could get EU citizenship after the UK left.

Mr Verhofstadt defended the comments on a visit to London in May, saying: “It was a joke, a joke, where is your British sense of humour? I hope in Brexit you don’t lose it – the famous British humour.”

Mr Robbins’s departure is one of a wave of top civil servants who have resigned, rather than face the challenge of delivering Brexit within 100 days of a new leader at Number 10.

Mrs May’s replacement will start work on 25 July, with MPs breaking for summer recess, and the latest Brexit date set at 31 October.

Boris Johnson, the favourite to win the leadership race, has committed to leaving that day, “do or die”, whereas his opponent Jeremy Hunt has indicated more willingness to get another extension if needed.

Prime Minister's Europe Adviser Olly Robbins on Whitehall in Westminster, London.
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Mr Robbins jokingly asked counterparts if he could become an EU citizen

Mr Hunt was asked about Mr Robbins at a hustings in Manchester and said it was a “good moment to change our approach”.

His response was met with cheers.

Mr Hunt added: “I didn’t agree with the approach that we took in a number of areas of the Brexit negotiations.

“I was a loyal Cabinet minister – I think it’s very important the prime minister has a loyal foreign secretary – but I wasn’t a believer in the backstop and I didn’t believe it would get through parliament, so I think this is a good moment to change our approach.

“I’m not going to say something about a civil servant who I know works incredibly hard, even though there are issues I disagree with him on.

“But I do think now is a moment that we have to get this right, deliver a different deal and one that can actually get through Parliament.”

Both candidates have been working on their Brexit approach and are expected to unveil their negotiating teams shortly.

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Hunt has recruited Stephen Harper, former prime minister of Canada, and fellow Canadian Rona Ambrose who has played a part in trade negotiations with America.

He will also bring in Crawford Falconer, a trade expert who was sidelined by Mrs May.

Mr Johnson has reported recruited Brexiteers including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and attorney general Geoffrey Cox.

The Sunday Telegraph reports the frontrunner will also put in place a Brexit “war cabinet” of senior ministers and advisers who would assess every obstacle to leaving at Halloween and report back to cabinet.

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed Mr Robbins has not yet resigned, and said he had stayed on for eight months longer than expected already.

The spokesman added there would be time for a handover and “correct knowledge sharing for a smooth transition” but that Mr Robbins is “keen to move on”.

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