Ten­sions among Bri­tish diplo­mats as Brus­sels staff morale slumps

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT INTERNATIONAL - Ian Wishart

AS PRIME Min­is­ter Theresa May pre­pares for the first time to out­line a de­tailed Brexit plan – 29 weeks af­ter the UK voted to leave the Euro­pean Union – morale among the 150 Bri­tish diplo­mats sta­tioned in Brus­sels has ebbed.

The staffers, many of whom are dis­mayed by the gov­ern­ment’s veiled de­par­ture prepa­ra­tions, worry that May’s ad­vis­ers in Lon­don could side­line them in forth­com­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to four mem­bers of the UK team. They are con­cerned that would rob Bri­tain of im­por­tant EU ex­per­tise re­quired for a good deal that avoids a dis­or­derly exit.

The res­ig­na­tion ear­lier this month of Ivan Rogers, Bri­tain’s ex­pe­ri­enced en­voy to the EU, who ran­kled some Brexit sup­port­ers, was a fur­ther blow to morale in Brus­sels, said the peo­ple, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause they were with­out au­tho­ri­sa­tion to speak pub­licly. Rogers departed, urg­ing his staff to chal­lenge “mud­dled think­ing” and “ill­founded ar­gu­ments” from his col­leagues in Lon­don.

His re­place­ment, Tim Bar­row, has the task of ral­ly­ing his troops as May pre­pares to trig­ger the exit pro­ceed­ings be­fore the end of March.

“Their value is that they are on the ground in Brus­sels, con­tin­u­ously talk­ing to diplo­mats from other coun­tries, and know in­side out the minu­tiae of how the EU works,” said Aled Wil­liams, who left his role as spokesman at the UK’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the EU in 2015, and is now se­nior di­rec­tor at FTI Con­sult­ing in Brus­sels.

“That is go­ing to be cru­cial in­tel­li­gence for the gov­ern­ment in Lon­don, who will be up against 27 other EU gov­ern­ments as well as the EU in­sti­tu­tions.”

An email sent to the UK’s press of­fice in Brus­sels seek­ing com­ment was not re­turned.

A re­port re­leased on Satur­day by Bri­tain’s par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee for Brexit said a “suc­cess­ful in­te­gra­tion” be­tween the gov­ern­ment’s Brexit team and UK of­fi­cials in Brus­sels was “cru­cial”.

The fear of de­clin­ing morale at the UK’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the EU, also called UKREP, is one of the rea­sons that Rogers used in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter as a ral­ly­ing cry to the staff he was leav­ing be­hind.

It also hinted at the ten­sion be­tween the Bri­tish teams in Brus­sels and Lon­don.

“The famed UKREP com­bi­na­tion of im­mense cre­ativ­ity with re­al­ism ground in ne­go­ti­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is needed more than ever right now,” he wrote in a Jan­uary 3 email to staff. “I hope that you will sup­port each other in those dif­fi­cult mo­ments where you have to de­liver mes­sages that are dis­agree­able to those who need to hear them.”

While Rogers’s de­par­ture was di­rectly linked to the Brexit process, it comes at a time when the team in Brus­sels has al­ready been de­pleted.

Since the June 23 ref­er­en­dum there has been a steady flow of res­ig­na­tions from lower-level posts.

Sup­port each other when you have to de­liver mes­sages dis­agree­able to those who need to hear them.

FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

There are fears Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s Brexit plan could side­line Bri­tain’s EU team mem­bers.

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