Could Brexit bring the UK CLOSER to EU27? Minister champions ‘personal relationships’

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Brexit has left a deep gash in UK-EU relations, with a legion of issues left for officials to solve. Over the last few months, cordiality has stretched to a breaking point, namely over Covid vaccine procurement and the Northern Ireland protocol. But where the UK’s relationship with the bloc at large has soured, one minister has made it his mission to pursue closer ties with the Brussels contingent.

For Brexiteers, the leave vote always presented an opportunity for Britain, with many convinced it would allow the UK to venture out into the world on its own terms.

The exit’s immediate months haven’t born much fruit so far, although trade deal talks are continuing at pace.

But one unexpected opportunity has presented itself thanks to one minister who is hoping to firm up relations with the bloc’s constituents individually.

Greg Hands, a Department for International Trade minister since 2016, has prioritised smoothing relations.

While Lord Frost focuses on the EU Commission, Mr Hands has been busy contacting individual members of the EU27.

Mr Hands, who can speak several languages, including German and French, is allegedly working through a checklist.

According to Politico, he has contacted nearly all of them in person, over the phone or via Zoom.

Speaking to the publication, he championed personal communication with the bloc’s members.

Mr Hands said: “It’s not just about trade agreements. We also need those personal relationships in place.

“I used to sit on the EU trade and foreign affairs committee, and it struck me that we need to maintain those relationships bilaterally.

“You never know when you’ll need to have a conversation with the German trade minister.”

And his colleagues seem impressed, with one UK diplomat praising him as “extremely helpful”.

The former remainer, who refused to support Theresa May’s early Brexit deal, has indicated he will use his newfound close ties to “go into bat” for Britain – specifically when it comes to services.

He said: “I meet quite often with professional bodies and hear from them firsthand about their key priority markets, where they see the obstacles. Sometimes those obstacles can be quite complicated.

“We need to make sure our trade agreements and trade policy agenda works for professional services as much as it works for food and drink and automotive sectors.”

Mr Hands’ positive intervention is what EU diplomats have wanted from the UK.

Speaking about the Northern Ireland Protocol, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic has urged cooperation between the UK and the bloc.

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He told the BBC he wants to avoid actions that would “sour” relations amid the race to solve Irish border disputes.

Instead, he said the ideal would be a joint approach away from “unilateral actions.”

Mr Hands’ actions come after the Conservative MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell, hinted new trade deals will be secured very soon, which he says shows Britain is “getting back into the world”.

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Speaking to Express.co.uk, he said: “My understanding is Australia is first down the track and that is expected anytime soon.

“And New Zealand isn’t far behind. So I think that New Zealand is coming along.”

He added: “Britain is back, we’re back as a free-trading independent nation, and it’s a great advertisement for what we can do with other countries in the Pacific and Asia region.

“Particularly, I think about countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan and others, with whom we’ve got huge opportunities to now take part in trade or trade agreements, which we have mutual benefits to all of our countries.”

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