UK envoy to EU calls it quits, raising chances of a disruptive Brexit
THE CHANCES that the UK would make a disruptive break from its biggest market grew with the resignation of the British envoy to the EU, Ivan Rogers, an experienced Brussels insider who was reviled by leading Brexit supporters.
Ivan Rogers quit as Britain’s permanent representative to the 28-nation EU urging officials working for the UK in Brussels to keep challenging “muddled thinking” from colleagues in London.
He warned the government lacked experienced negotiators and called for stronger working relationships between its London-based team and the UK’s permanent post in Brussels.
Supporters of “as close EU ties as possible” bemoaned his departure as a “body blow”, while backers of a clean break from the bloc cheered his going as a sign the UK government was committed to regaining complete control of immigration, laws and budget – even if that means fraying trade ties.
“Britain’s partners will take this as a sign that (Prime Minister Theresa) May’s government is heading for a hard Brexit, which puts sovereignty ahead of economic integration with the EU,” said Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform.
May needs to be told the “uncomfortable” truth about the difficulties of negotiating Brexit, Rogers said announcing his resignation to staff in Brussels earlier this week.
“I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power,” Rogers said in the note, obtained by the BBC and published on its website. “The government will only achieve the best for the country if it harnesses the best experience we have.
Rogers’ comments show the size of the task facing May’s government less than three months before she is due to trigger the formal start of Brexit negotiations.
He is the most senior figure from the UK’s politically neutral civil service to voice concerns over preparations for the talks.
Dismissed by Brexit hardliners as an EU fanatic, Rogers was viewed by advocates of a softer form of Brexit as an experienced asset with strong diplomatic contacts and an openness to find common ground. His sudden exit at such a delicate juncture signals a hardening of positions, raising the chances the UK will quit the single market and revert to a tariffs regime.
Last month, May’s office was forced to downplay remarks attributed to Rogers saying it could take a decade to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU. Her spokesman clarified that Rogers was merely communicating to London the views of other EU governments. The episode showed how his observations, however nuanced, inevitably risked exploding when they landed in the political minefield of Brexit.
This week, May’s government said Rogers was scheduled to depart at the end of his term in November but had resigned early to enable a replacement to be appointed before exit negotiations began.
Rogers outlined to staff concerns about shortcomings in preparations for the talks. “Senior ministers, who will decide on our positions, issue by issue, also need from you detailed, unvarnished – even where this is uncomfortable – and nuanced understanding of the views, interests and incentives of the other 27” member states of the EU, he said. – Bloomberg