British ministers and civil servants have been told to attending most EU meetings in just 10 days' time as Boris Johnson gears up for one of the most important weeks of his premiership.
With Mr Johnson primed to hold crunch talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Wednesday, it's been revealed ministers and other officials will no longer attend meetings in Brussels unless they are vital to UK interests.
But in a further indication that a no-deal Brexit is looming large, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said: "An incredible amount of time and effort goes into EU meetings with attendance just the tip of the iceberg.
"Our diligent, world-class officials spend many hours preparing for them."
He added that by dodging many of these meetings, time would be freed up for ministers to "get on with preparing for our departure on October 31 and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead".
Mr Johnson is set to meet Ms Merkel later, the first in a series of meetings with European and world leaders over the coming days.
The Prime Minister will travel to Berlin where he will discuss Brexit-related issues with the German premier over dinner, before heading to Paris on Thursday to meet French President Emmanuel Macron.
On Saturday, Mr Johnson will be at the G7 summit where he will meet other world leaders including US president Donald Trump.
The meetings come as Mr Johnson has reiterated his opposition to the Northern Irish backstop, saying he will not support any withdrawal agreement that includes it.
In an interview with ITV News, Mr Johnson said he believes there are “plenty of other creative solutions” to the Northern Irish backstop.
He added: “I think it’s a bit paradoxical that the EU side is talking about us putting up all the barriers, we’ve made it clear 1,000 times we don’t want to see any checks on the Northern Irish frontier at all, under no circumstances let me repeat again, under no circumstances will the Government of the United Kingdom be putting checks on the Northern Irish frontier.
“By contrast, it is the EU who currently claim that the single market and the plurality of the single market require them to have such checks – I don’t think that’s true.
“I’m going to go of course and see if I can explore those ideas with our friends in Germany and France and at the G7 – let’s see where we get to.
“It may be that for now, they stick with the mantra, rien ne va plus, and they can’t change a jot or a title of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
It comes as Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said UK ministers and officials will no longer attend most European Union meetings from September 1, the Government has announced.
The country will only be represented at meetings where the UK has a “significant national interest,” the Department for Exiting the European Union said.
Meanwhile, the Government is ramping up its preparations for no-deal with the Chancellor announcing an auto-enrolment scheme to help businesses prepare for post-Brexit trade with the EU.
HMRC will begin automatically enrolling businesses in a customs ID-system in an attempt to double the number which are currently registered.
More than 88,000 VAT registered companies across the UK will be allocated an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number in the next two weeks in order to keep trading with customers and suppliers in the EU once the UK has left the EU.
Labour has called for ministers to “put businesses and the economy first, and rule out a no-deal Brexit”.
Peter Dowd, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “This panicked announcement from the Chancellor is late in the day for the thousands of businesses that have customers and suppliers in the EU and rely on the steady flow of goods at UK ports.
“The issuing of EORI numbers will not come close to mitigating the disastrous effects a Tory No Deal Brexit will have on small business exporters.”
The Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government has also announced a £9 million fund to help councils in areas with key ports to make sure they have the personnel needed to deal with any disruption at terminals.
Kent Council will be given over £2.6 million out of the available funding due to the pressures it faces around the Port of Dover.
Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive a total of £1.7 million.