EU dread: How Brussels banned phones from Brexit negotiations with UK

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The European Union’s Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom (TFEU) is headed by Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, who is in charge of Brussels team in Brexit talks with the UK. Outlined in the European Commission’s 2017 Annual Activity report, the TFEU note the risks that come with the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU.

One of which, is leaks and safety of information, provoking Brussels’ team to form strict security policy.

The document reads: “Negotiation meetings with United Kingdom’s authorities are held in rooms outside the Taskforce offices, with participants having no access to mobile electronic instruments.

“Stakeholders’ visits are managed so as to minimise risks, including by pre-registration, people escort, post-meeting report in a dedicated platform.”

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On top of the banning of mobile phone devices, the TFEU also ensured access to meeting rooms was incredibly limited and IT security provided a dedicated platform for the exchange of documents to prevent vital information reaching the wrong hands.

The document adds: “In order to minimise the risk of inappropriate access to information and leaks, in addition to the standard Commission measures, the physical space of the Task force was secured with secured doors with badge and fingerprint access.

“From an IT perspective, a secured dedicated platform for exchange of documents with other services was set up (tailor made Basis system).

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“The Task Force makes extensive use of SECEM mail for exchange of information. In addition, the secured application for the management of the EU restricted documents was made available to staff with personal printers isolated from the network. Files are stored in an encrypted disk.

“Staff was also asked to pass security clearance and to follow security training courses.”

The banning of smartphones in meetings between political leaders has become an increasingly common practice due to the fear of damaging leaks which can derail negotiations.

Fascinatingly, the negotiating team in Brussels also placed emphasis in its ‘Political Risks’ section on preventing the UK leaving the bloc with no deal.

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The document says: “While the TF50 works towards a successful outcome of the negotiations, i.e. a withdrawal agreement ratified by the Parties by the end of March 2019, the possibility cannot be excluded that the negotiations fail and the United Kingdom leaves the Union without an agreement in time.

“In order to minimise such risk and its negative consequences, the Secretariat-General of the Commission has set up a Preparedness Group that coordinates action of all relevant services of the Commission with a view to getting prepared for the departure of the United Kingdom, including in case of absence of a deal by the end of March 2019.”

This suggests that Brussels were keen to avoid a no deal Brexit, acknowledging that the impact would be damaging to the EU.


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