In the early hours of last Friday morning, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, travelled to Brussels to discuss our withdrawal negotiations with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission.
This was a very important moment. Following these meetings, and after months of negotiation, the two sides agreed that ‘sufficient progress’ on the first phase of the negotiations had been made.
This afternoon, the European Council (the Heads of Government of EU member states) signalled its agreement with that position. We can now move on and begin to discuss the future deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that the Prime Minister wants to achieve.
As I have said before, work on EU withdrawal is not just a task for DExEU, but for all government departments, in preparing both for the negotiations and for life after.
The small group of civil servants who accompanied the Prime Minister and David Davis on Friday morning – led by Olly Robbins, the Prime Minister’s EU sherpa – represented just a fraction of the number of colleagues whose hard work helped secure the agreement.
Hundreds of officials have travelled back and forth from Brussels, many spending long days in negotiation rooms with their EU counterparts over the last few weeks. They have been discussing a wide range of issues: from the financial settlement and citizens’ rights, to the island of Ireland; and highly technical separation issues, such as the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). This has often meant time away from families in the full glare of the media, which everyone has handled with great understanding and resilience.
There are also the many UKRep, DExEU and cross-Whitehall staff who have been involved in the extensive logistical operations to ensure that all of those negotiators have had places to stay, IT to work on and rooms to meet in. And there are others working in communications, ensuring journalists are briefed, tweets shared, and London kept up-to-date with proceedings.
Our HMG colleagues in the European network have also played a major role. Staff across our British Embassies and High Commissions in Europe and beyond have banged the drum in national capitals, supporting the work of the negotiating teams in Brussels.
Back in London, colleagues at DExEU have been working tirelessly to co-ordinate, and to lead, the whole operation across Whitehall.
The work of exiting the EU extends well beyond the negotiating front line. From the moment the Government triggered Article 50, officials from all departments have been preparing for the negotiations: researching and writing policy position papers; engaging with external stakeholders; developing vital analysis; and equipping Ministers with the information needed to shape the progress of the negotiations.
Across government, preparatory work is well under way for the UK to leave the EU. Departments have developed detailed delivery plans for each of the roughly 300 work-streams in train. There is a major DExEU-led, cross-government programme to co-ordinate and join up this work – it is a superb example of collaborative working.
I want to offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone in HMG who has contributed to this outcome. Without your expertise and sheer hard work, today’s agreement would just not have been possible. To those civil servants who have been directly involved in the negotiations over the last few months, to those who have supported the negotiating teams from London, and to our colleagues in the wider network, I say thank you.
This is a significant milestone for the UK, HMG and DExEU, and is testament to a brilliant Civil Service.
Follow Sir Jeremy on Twitter: @HeadUKCivServ.