Regret as Ivan Rogers quits over “muddled thinking” of Brexit plan

PUBLISHED: 13:19 04 January 2017 | UPDATED: 13:19 04 January 2017

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

European Commission expresses regret over shock departure of the EU Ambassador months before Brexit negotiations begin

Brussels officials said the resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers meant the UK had lost a “professional” diplomat who had always “loyally defended” his Government.

In an explosive resignation email, Sir Ivan hit out at the “ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” of politicians and said civil servants still did not know the Government’s plans for Brexit.

Sir Ivan unexpectedly quit weeks after he sparked controversy by warning the Government that a post-Brexit trade deal could take a decade to finalise, and even then may fail to be ratified by member states.

The European Commission said it regretted the loss of a “very knowledgeable” envoy and indicated that Sir Ivan had been a tough negotiator in wrangles with Brussels.

Sir Simon Fraser, the former head of the Diplomatic Service, warned that Britain was losing one of its biggest experts on Europe months before “very complex” Brexit negotiations begin.

But prominent pro-Brexit MP Iain Duncan Smith suggested civil servants are now having to “tear up the rulebook” for how they normally operate to deal with leaving the EU.

Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud paid tribute to Sir Ivan in Brussels.

She said: “We regret the loss of a very professional, very knowledgeable - while not always easy - interlocutor and diplomat who always loyally defended the interests of his Government.”

Asked if his resignation shortly before the tough Brexit talks begin would cause problems, she said: “This is not something that we are going to comment on at this stage. Negotiations have not yet started and we are still waiting for the triggering of Article 50 to commence those negotiations.”

Sir Simon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “He is a highly intelligent, knowledgeable and experienced official and one of the greatest experts, if I can use the expert word, that we have on European matters in the British Civil Service.”

He went on: “I do think that his sort of in-depth knowledge and expertise is a loss as we go into what is going to be, as (Brexit Secretary) David Davis himself has said, a very complex set of negotiations.”

Sir Simon, who left his post in July 2015, rejected suggestions that Sir Ivan was not tough enough in negotiations, including David Cameron’s attempt to reshape Britain’s relationship with the EU before the referendum.

The ex-diplomat insisted Sir Ivan “called a spade a spade” in his advice to ministers.

In his resignation letter, Sir Ivan criticised politicians and urged his civil servants to continue to challenge ministers and “speak the truth to those in power”.

Sir Ivan wrote: “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.”

It emerged in December, as Theresa May met European counterparts at a Brussels summit, that Sir Ivan had passed on warnings from other EU members that negotiations on a trade deal could take a decade.

But former Tory leader Mr Duncan Smith suggested Sir Ivan’s views were less relevant as EU member states will inevitably be feeding him their most hardline views before negotiations begin.

He told Today: “They are now having to accept and understand that we are leaving and that means therefore sometimes the views and the opinions of what you keep feeding back from various member states isn’t actually sometimes quite relevant.”

Mr Duncan Smith also suggested Sir Ivan had undermined his position by “going public” too often.

Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff and an ex-diplomat, warned the Prime Minister against hiring a pro-Brexit successor to Sir Ivan.

Appointing a “patsy” who does not explain plainly what the other side is thinking will doom the Brexit negotiations to failure as ministers will be operating in a “fantasy land” about what is achievable, he told Today.

In the email from Sir Ivan, sent just before 1pm on Tuesday, he said he decided to step down early so his replacement can be in place when Article 50 is triggered by April and formal negotiations begin.

But it comes amid reports of tension between the senior diplomat and ministers because of his pessimistic views on Brexit.

Sir Ivan stressed the need for expert civil servants to play a central role in the negotiations and urged his staff to tell ministers the true opinions of the other 27 member states “even where this is uncomfortable”.

He added: “Serious multilateral negotiating experience is in short supply in Whitehall, and that is not the case in the (European) Commission or in the Council.

“The Government will only achieve the best for the country if it harnesses the best experience we have - a large proportion of which is concentrated in UKREP - and negotiates resolutely.

“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.”

Sir Ivan also said the allocation of roles in the UK’s negotiating team needs “rapid resolution” and hit out at assertions by some politicians that a free trade deal will be easy to negotiate.

In comments seen as a veiled swipe at International Trade Secretary Liam Fox he said: “Contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen when it is not thwarted by authorities: increasing market access to other markets and consumer choice in our own, depends on the deals, multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral that we strike, and the terms that we agree.”

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a Friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish).
  • Become a Patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You or your company will be mentioned in the newspaper each week (should you wish) and you and a guest will be invited to join the editor at a special lunch in London this June to discuss the anniversary of Brexit.


Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



Latest articles

The choice is simple – vote down extremists, dreamers and chancers

Is it time for toughness to discourage further defections or for accommodation to a changing public mood across the Union?

Question Time Live: Political debate from Oxford ahead of the election

All the action from Question Time as Britain gears up for the Brexit Election.

Britain on collision course with Europe over Brexit bill

Angela Merkel has said the UK has “illusions” about the realities of Brexit and insisted talks on the UK’s divorce bill from the EU must be dealt with before trade negotiations can begin.

Election Live: Boris clatters into campaign mode and Labour on housing

All the news, updates and reactino on April 27.

Election Live: Final PMQs and parties square up over NHS

All the news, reaction and updates on April 26.

Here’s how the Remain cause has ceased to be the establishment

When you think about it, Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election should come as no surprise.

Fear is mounting that Brexit’s impact will spill across the Irish Sea

With the clock ticking not only on Article 50, but also a UK general election, is Ireland the part of Europe with most to fear from Brexit’s fallout?

Danger ahead: Could Mrs May’s Brexit Election come back to bite her?

The Prime Minister believes she holds all the cards as the country embarks on a General Election. But Labour could still spring a surprise at the ballot box

Is Tim Farron the man with the most to gain from this election?

The Liberal Democrat leader is the one Number 10 increasingly fears

Starmer vows MPs could veto Brexit under Labour

MPs would be given the chance to halt a Brexit deal secured by a Labour government, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has said.

Election Live: Starmer spells out Labour’s Brexit strategy

All the election news, reaction and updates on April 25.

France and the long shadow of Putin

One of France’s most powerful political figures wasn’t on the ballot paper – he was more than 1,500 miles away, at home in the Kremlin

ELECTION LIVE: Tories attack Corbyn on defence, Lib Dem members boost

All the updates, reaction and analysis on Monday April 24.

Labour needs a Brexit strategy, not just ideology

Labour could still shock Theresa May at the ballot box. But Corbyn needs to up his game on Brexit

FRENCH ELECTION: Far-right candidate Le Pen makes it in to final two

Pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron will face far-right Marine Le Pen in a head-to-head battle for the French presidency.

Turkey, Brexit and the danger of referendums: A recipe for division

Brexit raises more and more questions for its backers. Yet they still have no answers

ELECTION LIVE: Corbyn’s new bank holidays and Farron gay row grows

Follow all the developments and reactions on Sunday April 23.

Here’s why May’s election won’t pan out according to plan...

... they never do, says The New European’s election editor

ELECTION LIVE: Candidates hit the streets as ground war kicks off

Live election coverage including news, reaction and analysis on Saturday April 22.

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter