UK en­voy to EU calls it quits, rais­ing chances of a dis­rup­tive Brexit

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Ian Wishart and Tim Ross

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

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