Britain's Ambassador To The EU Quits And Criticises Government On The Way Out
The Debrief: Brexit, Brexit, Brexit...how do we love thee? Let us count the ways
If you thought we reached peak Brexit last year, think again. If you had heard enough about Brexit and were hoping it would fade away as the lights finally went out on the set of 2016, then you’re not in luck.
Yesterday the British ambassador to the European Union quite unexpectedly. Yes, that’s right. He left his position just weeks before we are set to start the formal process of leaving the EU.
Sir Ivan Rogers explained the reasons for his departure in a lengthy email to his staff, which was leaked last night. He urged civil servants still working on Brexit negotiations to remain independent and critical, as civil servants are supposed to do, by calling out ‘ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking’ from the government.
Ok, so how significant is this? In short, very. Sir Rogers is the guy you’d want to be involved in our Brexit negotiations when it all goes down; he was one of the UK’s most experienced EU diplomats. Rogers was due to remain in his post until October/November time.
He has said that he decided to leave now in order to give his successor time to settle in before lengthy, official negotiations begin in March. However, surely, the flip side is that his successor will only have until then to get their head around everything.
Rogers has been criticised by Brexit advocates because last year he warned that leaving the EU completely could take Britain as long as ten years in a leaked memo. The reality is that nobody really knows how long it will take, or what it looks like despite our government’s pretence that everything is under control for a speedy ‘hard Brexit’.
In his parting email Sir Rogers wrote that he hoped his colleagues would ‘never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.’ He also said ‘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.’
Today The Telegraph reported that ‘Theresa May is expected to appoint an EU ambassador who “believes in Brexit”’ and described Rogers’ decision to resign as the result of ‘being cut adrift by Downing Street’ because of his ‘pessimistic’ view of Brexit. They expect that May will appoint a Brexiteer as his successor.
Here’s the thing: civil servants are meant to be impartial. They are meant to look at situations objectively and rigorously. They are meant to be honest about problems and challenges. This country did vote for Brexit, by a slim slither of a majority but that doesn’t mean we should be going full steam ahead into unchartered waters with no regard for the warnings of what lies ahead. Has our unelected government not seen Titanic?
Some are worried, perhaps quite rightly, that this threatens the very foundations of our democracy:
First Brexiteers assault parliamentary sovereignty, then judicial independence, now civil service impartiality. The tenets of our democracy. pic.twitter.com/Luc3GxpFSr— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) January 4, 2017
Indeed, Nick Clegg has described the news of ‘the resignation of somebody as experienced as Sir Ivan Rogers’ as a ‘body blow to the Government’s Brexit plans.’
Clegg added ‘if the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in Government, it counts as a spectacular own goal.’
Meanwhile, at least someone is very happy about the news that Rogers has gone:
I welcome the resignation of UK ambassador to Brussels, Ivan Rogers. The Foreign Office needs a complete clear out.— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) January 3, 2017
Brexit news is here to stay and it’s only set to get more complicated, more frustrating and more confusing. Expect lots of disagreements, convoluted policies and talk of trade deals. In fact, I’m going to put it out there – in a few months you’re probably going to look back on the referendum coverage fondly because it was, at least, exciting. What we’re realising now is that, even in the very upper echelons of our government and civil service, there is frustration, discontent, chaos and an ever diminishing amount of experience and expertise.
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