Chief characters in Britain's Brexit trade talks

Chief characters in Britain's Brexit trade talks

Five people have played a central role in the months of tortuous trade talks

Representative Image. Credit: AFP Photo

Five people have played a central role in the months of tortuous trade talks with the European Union since Britain left the bloc in January, which ended in a deal on Thursday.

Frost, 55, was appointed as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's so-called EU "sherpa" shortly after the British leader took office in July 2019, and became chief trade negotiator after helping to finalise last year's divorce deal.

A career diplomat with the Foreign Office, his resume features stints in Brussels in the 1990s and as ambassador to Denmark from 2006 to 2008.

More recently, Frost spent nearly three years as chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association and briefly became chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He replaced ex-premier Theresa May's top EU adviser Olly Robbins, who drew repeated criticism from ardent Brexiteers for being too sympathetic to the bloc.

A hint of Frost's negotiating tactics could be gleaned from a 2015 op-ed he penned about Britain's pre-Brexit referendum attempts to reform the EU.

In it he argued the UK could either make radical aspirations gradually seem normal or instead pursue more limited proposals to win the backing of Germany and France.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator has been ever-present in the Brexit process, heading Brussels' team both in the first phase of divorce talks and trade negotiations.

The 69-year-old veteran politician and former French minister has been commended across Europe for his handling of the tricky and high-profile task and keeping the other 27 members united.

An ex-EU commissioner well-versed in the mysteries of the bloc's law, he unsuccessfully sought the role of European Commission president in 2014.

With his best days seemingly behind him, Brexit instead has provided a rebirth of sorts for the avowed European, who has appeared to relish the challenge of wrangling with Britain and keeping the bloc together.

Britain's prime minister was a figurehead in the official Leave campaign in 2016, urging Britain to "take back control" from Brussels.

In the aftermath of the shock result, the former London mayor was appointed foreign secretary by then-premier May, but his two-year stint ended when he resigned over her Brexit strategy.

Johnson, 56, secured a high-profile but easily won Conservative Party leadership contest in July 2019 to win the country's top job.

He then defied expectations by sealing new divorce terms with Brussels six months later, and scored a thumping majority in a December general election on a simple pledge to "get Brexit done".

But talks on UK-EU future trade relations proved gruelling -- and at odds of his claim to have an "oven-ready deal" -- with the coronavirus pandemic further complicating matters.

Johnson nonetheless opted against extending the 11-month transition period, doggedly vowing Britain would embark on its post-Brexit future with or without a deal in January.

The European Commission president entered the Brexit fray in the final furlong, replacing Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the bloc's powerful executive arm last December.

Von der Leyen, 62, was Germany's defence minister for six difficult years under Chancellor Angela Merkel, but has had a lesser role in trade talks than her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker in the fraught and drawn-out divorce process.

Brussels-born, fluent in French and English, and with a degree from the London School of Economics, she has still intervened at key moments when talks repeatedly stalled, holding video calls with Johnson in a bid to break the deadlock.

A medical doctor and mother-of-seven known for her extensive network of contacts in Europe and across the Atlantic, she is a strong proponent of closer EU integration and has in the past advocated a "United States of Europe".

Cabinet Office minister Gove, 53, is charged with preparing Britain for life outside the EU and interacting with bloc officials over divorce issues.

A Brexit architect known for his political acumen and congeniality, his career in government has also been filled by intrigue and political back-stabbing.

Gove, a former journalist, helped mastermind the official "Leave" campaign and initially supported Johnson's unsuccessful 2016 bid to be prime minister, before changing his mind and briefly running himself.

He has said his lifelong opposition to the EU began when complying with the bloc's policies forced the closure of his adoptive father's fish processing business in Scotland -- though his dad said it was not the reason.

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