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21 September 2016

5 people who will dramatically shape EU negotiations

Brexit means a lot of people meeting behind closed doors. 

By Julia Rampen

The UK isn’t expected to enter Brexit negotiations until 2017, but while the Government keeps schtum on hot topics like free movement and the rights of EU citizens in Britain, the rest of Europe is getting busy. 

Here are some of the key people to watch over the coming months:

1. Theresa May

Forget David Davis, the Brexit minister who won’t reveal anything, and Liam Fox, who as international trade man stands for everything the EU detests. The real decision maker on the UK side is Theresa May. Sadly, she isn’t in a mood for sharing. But her interventions so far suggest the Brexiteers may not get their way. Davis was forced to backtrack on his assertion that the UK would choose border control over the single market

2. Joseph Muscat

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The Prime Minister of Malta is expected to chair Brexit negotiations, as his nation will hold the EU presidency in 2017.

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He has already sounded a warning that Britain “can’t have its cake and eat it”. 

Muscat told Sky News: “I don’t see a situation where Britain will be better off at the end of the deal.”

He also said the UK hadn’t worked out whether it wants access to the single market: “What does Brexit mean at the end of the day?” (Answer according to May: Brexit).

3. Michel Barnier

This conservative French politician has been appointed chief negotiator for the EU over Brexit. His first move is to visit the capitals of the 27 remaining member states and canvas leaders on their priorities. 

An experienced politician, Barnier has already said Britain must accept freedom of movement if it wishes to maintain access to the single market. 

4. Jean-Claude Juncker 

Behind Barnier stands the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. The nearest thing to a trade negotiations street fighter, Juncker is pushing for a start to Brexit negotiations to put an end to “rumours and doubts”.

In a recent speech he hit out at British xenophobia, declaring: “We Europeans can never accept Polish workers being harassed, beaten up or even murdered on the streets of Harlow.”

5. Angela Merkel

Germany’s Chancellor is the most influential politician in Europe and has long been a power broker for the continent at times of crisis. 

Merkel has so far shown understanding on Brexit, with tacit support for May’s delay in triggering Article 50.

But her power may be waning – domestic voters are showing their discontent with her refugees policy at the polls.