BRITAIN’S ministers and officials are to empty-chair most European Union meetings from September 1, the UK Government has announced as it ratchets up the Brexit pressure.

As the announcement was made Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, tweeted: "Sending officials to meetings that don't affect us is not the best use of their time. From September 1 we'll only go to meetings that are vital to our interests - freeing our people to focus on our future relationships."

The department made clear the Government would be represented at meetings where the UK had a "significant national interest"; the issue of security was given as one example.

With Brexit due on October 31, meetings are expected to focus largely on the period after the UK has left the bloc and decisions on whether to attend will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Barclay explained: "An incredible amount of time and effort goes into EU meetings with attendance just the tip of the iceberg.

"Our diligent, world-class officials also spend many hours preparing for them whether in reading the necessary papers or working on briefings.

"From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours.

"This will free up time for ministers and their officials to get on with preparing for our departure on October 31 and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead."

At meetings where the UK is not represented, its vote will be delegated.

The Brexit department said the move was "not intended in any way to frustrate the functioning of the EU".

The Prime Minister will continue to attend the European Council meetings of the bloc's leaders.

The Liberal Democrats’ Tom Brake, speaking on behalf of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said: "This is another instance of the Government shooting itself in the foot.

"We don't know what our relationship with the EU will be like in the future. We have yet to agree any kind of deal with the EU that can pass through Parliament. No-deal has been categorically rejected by Parliament and has no mandate from the public. Yet we're now prematurely leaving the decision-making table.

"Brexit sounds the death-knell for British influence abroad. This government announcement points to Britain becoming a nation of rule-takers," he added.