Needed urgently: ambassador to handle Brexit negotiations

The UK government is feverishly attempting to find a replacement for EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers, whose dramatic resignation has left a vacuum at the centre of the team preparing to negotiate Brexit.

Brexit UK flag
Sir Ivan Rogers, one of the UK's most experienced Brussels diplomats, has resigned as EU ambassador. He was criticised by pro-Brexit politicians last month for reporting to Downing Street that other EU officials believed negotiations with the other 27 nations on a trade deal could take up to a decade to complete.The Daily Telegraph reported that Downing Street had “lost confidence” in Sir Ivan over his “pessimistic” view over Brexit, although a government spokesman said that Sir Ivan – who was due to step down in the autumn unless his tenure in office was renewed – said he had resigned to enable a successor to be in place before Brexit negotiations start in March.

Preserving civil service neutrality

In an email to staff, Sir Ivan said that ministers needed to hear “unvarnished” and “uncomfortable” views from Europe, and urged British colleagues in Brussels to challenge “muddled thinking” and to “speak the truth to those in power”.Sir Ivan also told his staff in Brussels, “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.”Jonathan Powell, who served as Tony Blair's chief of staff in Downing Street for a decade, warned Prime Minister Theresa May not to hire a pro-Brexit successor to Sir Ivan, as it would break the golden rule that British civil servants must be independent and politically neutral.Mr Powell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, ”If you are not prepared to have the argument, if you are not prepared to have someone who will tell you what the problems are, you are going to end up in a disaster, and I’m afraid that’s what's going to happen with these negotiations if you really go for a patsy.“If [ministers] do not have civil servants telling them honestly what the other Europeans think, not telling them honestly what is possible to negotiate, they will live in this fantasy land of what's possible, they will live in a Daily Mail world of what could be achieved, and they will fail.

Complex negotiations

However, former Conservative minister and prominent pro-Brexit MP Iain Duncan Smith told the same programme that Sir Ivan’s views were less relevant, as EU member states would inevitably be feeding him their most hard-line views before negotiations began.Civil servants, he said, “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”.He added, “It’s well and good, absolutely right, to feed that back, but ministers have to sift that and decide ultimately no, what we are going to do is this, and we therefore have to get on and do it like this. If you don’t agree, and I have full respect for him, then you have to go.”But Sir Simon Fraser, former head of the Diplomatic Service and a former colleague of Sir Ivan’s, said that the resignation meant Britain was losing one of its greatest experts on Europe just as the complex Brexit negotiations were about to begin.“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,” he said. “Anyone who knows Ivan, who’s worked with him, will know absolutely that he was not someone who was ready to take no for an answer.“He was a very persistent negotiator, he showed lots of determination, and he worked incredibly hard to achieve the government’s objectives.”In the Winter 2016/17 issue of Relocate magazine, David Sapsted looks at some of the key international locations bidding for a piece of the post-Brexit action, and canvasses the views of business leaders and politicians.

 

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