Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s top diplomat in Brussels who told Theresa May that Brexit could take 10 years to negotiate, has left his position three months before the country is due to negotiate a deal with the EU to leave.
In the letter equivalent of a mic drop, Rogers -UK's ambassador to the European Union - told his staff he was quitting as Permanent Representative.
While he explained that his tenure was up in October, and that it would make more sense to leave before negotiations start, he went on to land some heavy blows against Theresa May’s government saying that the UK is lacking in serious negotiating experience, whereas the EU Commission and Council are not.
He also added that “Contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen when it is not thwarted by authorities.”
He signed off with:
“I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.
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.
I hope that you will continue to be interested in the views of others, even where you disagree with them, and in understanding why others act and think in the way that they do.”
The government refused to respond Rogers’ resignation, saying only that he is free to express his opinions.
Which leaves everyone wondering just what happens now, now that we’re short of one of our strongest and most experienced experts (10 years of relationships and knowledge) in Brussels who’s leaving note left a lot to be desired for the government.
In response, Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith condemned Rogers for making his opinion public claiming “It gets to a point when a civil servant starts to go public on stuff that you, as ministers, can no longer trust that individual. You must have absolute trust and cooperation and you cannot have this stuff coming out publicly,” and calling the letter "verging on the pompous".
But while he said that it sounded like there were “sour grapes” and alluded to Rogers retaliating for being kept out of the loop following his gloomy pessimism regarding a deal, Duncan Smith (and May) were criticised by Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, a union which represents permanent secretaries and will play a large part in Brexit negotiations.
He said the prime minister was “sitting back” as Rogers and the role of the civil service as a whole was criticised by former ministers like Duncan Smith. He added:
“It doesn’t surprise me that some politicians are calling for pro-Brexit civil servants to be appointed. What surprises me is the deafening silence from ministers who should be taking to the airwaves to defend the integrity and capability of the impartial civil service.”
Highlighting that Theresa May has publicly criticised the independent civil service which will impact successful Brexit negotiations, he said:
“The recipe for that success is unlikely to be [to] starve it of resources, lack clarity of objective and surround yourself with yes men and women who won’t speak truth unto power.”
There is a lot to be said about smothering opposition thought in a government, and none of it bodes well.
Echoing his sentiments, many spoke of the blow to the process that comes with Rogers’ departure:
Sir Simon Fraser, a former permanent secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and head of the UK Diplomatic Service, said he was a “huge loss” and that:
“He is a highly intelligent, knowledgeable and experienced official and one of the greatest experts we have on European matters in the civil service. His sort of in-depth knowledge and expertise is a loss as we go into a set of very complex negotiations.
“He was not somebody who was ready to take no as an answer – he was very persistent negotiator with lots of determination, and he worked incredibly hard to achieve the government’s objectives.”
Rogers is said to be staying in his position for the next few weeks while a replacement is found, but that person will play a huge part in the future of the UK, with only a month or two experience in a new role.
It’s said that the selection process will cast a wider net than usual, considering those with Brussels experience and with rumours of Farage going on the shortlist.
Britain’s favourite Sam the Eagle Muppet lookalike said "It would be lots of fun, but it's never going to happen."
Probably because Brussels loathe him and he wouldn’t be able to call a meeting with them, let alone the shots.
Thankfully he seems to be the only wildcard in the potentials which also include Sir Jon Cunliffe (who was in Rogers’ post before him and is currently the deputy governor of the Bank of England), Alex Ellis (former UK ambassador to Brazil and director of strategy for the foreign office) and Syed Kammall (Conservative MEP and chair of the party’s group in Brussels, well-liked by both sides).
Whether this will delay March negotiations is yet to be seen, but it seems unlikely given Theresa May’s determination to get going. The move reportedly caught the PM off-guard, but she is said to be revealing more details of her Brexit plan in the next few days.
EU Commission spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, said of potential delays:
“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.”
Buckle up and put your armbands on, we’re in for a bumpy ride.