Tensions among British diplomats as Brussels staff morale slumps
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.
There are fears Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan could sideline Britain’s EU team members.