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Brexit: Theresa May to take over talks with EU

British Prime Minister Theresa May will now lead Brexit talks with the EU. Her new Brexit minister, Dominic Raab, will focus on the domestic side of leaving the bloc.

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Tuesday she would take direct control of Brexit negotiations with the EU, with new Brexit minister Dominic Raab deputizing on her behalf.

The internal shuffle comes as May's cabinet has been in turmoil in recent weeks and the clock is ticking for Britain to strike a deal with the EU before exiting the bloc in March.

Read more: EU's Barnier lukewarm over Brexit White Paper, warns on red tape

How this happened?

  • David Davis quit as Brexit Minister on July 9 over May’s plans to maintain close economic ties with the EU and was replaced by hardliner Raab.
  • Davis has reportedly been sidelined by Olly Robbins, May’s Brexit adviser in the Cabinet Office.
  • May is pressing her version of a Brexit plan against opposition from within her own conservative party who want a strong, clear break with the bloc.

What will change? May told parliament in a letter that her Cabinet Office will have "overall responsibility" for Brexit negotiations. The Europe Unit of the Cabinet Office led by Robbins will support her in this role alongside Raab’s Brexit office. Raab will now focus on domestic preparations of Brexit and be "deputizing" on May’s behalf. 

Read more: Brexit: Theresa May compromises with eurosceptic lawmakers on customs bill  

What was the response?  

Labour shadow Brexit minister, Jenny Chapman, said: "Dominic Raab has been side-lined by the PM before he has even had the chance to get his feet under the table."

Supporters of a tough Brexit stance in EU negotiations lambasted the change, with Richard Tice of campaign group Leave Means Leave saying "we now look set for Brexit in name only."

Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay suggested there had been a "coup."

However, Raab dismissed such talk. He told a committee of MPs that the change only formalized the prime minister’s leading role in negotiations and that there was "one team, one chain of command." 

He said that, alongside Robbins, he would continue to meet with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. 

Read more: EU Customs Union, Single Market, Brexit — What you need to know

Where do Brexit negotiations stand now?

British and EU negotiators are hoping to hammer out a final divorce deal by October, in order to allow time for ratification by European and British parliaments before March. Both sides have agreed on Britain’s financial obligations to the bloc and rights on EU and British citizens living in each territory.

A major sticking point is the issue of border checks between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland.

May has proposed the EU and Britain retain close economic relations, meaning a possible customs deal on goods.

The EU accuses Britain of "cherry-picking" the best part of the bloc, while ignoring the free movement of people.

In an interview with German media group Funke set for broadcast on Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that time was running out for the UK and the EU to reach a deal before Britain's scheduled departure date next March.

"It is no longer five minutes to midnight, but two minutes to midnight," the minister said, calling on Britain to move forward and avoid crashing out of the EU without an agreement in place.

cmb, cw/rt (AFP, AP)

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