Britain’s EU ambassador quits before Brexit trigger
LONDON – Agence France-PresseThe United Kingdom’s ambassador to the European Union resigned on Jan. 3, adding uncertainty to the Brexit process less than three months before the U.K. is due to trigger its departure negotiations.
Ivan Rogers, a highly-regarded diplomat who had been due to end his four-year stint in October, stepped down as London prepares to invoke Article 50, which starts a two-year countdown to Britain leaving the EU.
Rogers came under fire last month for saying it could take 10 years for Britain to conclude a trade deal with the EU.
The government insisted, though, that he was only reporting back what was being said in European capitals.
“Sir Ivan Rogers has resigned a few months early as U.K. permanent representative to the European Union,” a British government spokeswoman said.
“Sir Ivan has taken this decision now to enable a successor to be appointed before the U.K. invokes Article 50 by the end of March. We are grateful for his work and commitment over the last three years.”
London is set to appoint a new ambassador and deputy ambassador shortly.
Rogers headed UKRep, the office which represents Britain in negotiations that take place in the EU.
In a resignation email to UKRep staff, he urged colleagues to provide British ministers with their “unvarnished” understanding through Brexit negotiations - “even where this is uncomfortable.”
“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,” Rogers said.
He also criticised the British government for its short supply of “serious multilateral negotiating experience” in London and said the structure of the U.K.’s negotiating team “needs rapid resolution.”
“His resignation is not a surprise for those who work with him,” a European diplomat told AFP.
“He was very competent, but not convinced by the Brexit decision and the British government line, leading the U.K. into an area of dangerous uncertainty.”
In the June 2016 referendum, 52 percent voted for Britain leave the EU.
Triggering Article 50 will start a two-year countdown after which Britain will leave all the institutions and the single market unless alternative arrangements have been agreed.
Hilary Benn, who chairs parliament’s Brexit scrutiny committee, told BBC radio the resignation was “not a good thing.”
“The hard work is going to start very soon,” he said.
“And having a handover in the middle of that, depending on when exactly he goes, is not ideal.”
Rogers had been in his post since November 2013, having previously served as prime minister David Cameron’s Europe adviser since 2011.
Aled Williams, the former spokesman for Britain’s EU embassy, said Rogers’ departure was a “big loss” to the Brexit negotiations.
“Sir Ivan never sugar-coated his advice: had the credibility to tell his political bosses how he saw it in Brussels,” he said.
The mild-mannered Rogers is widely respected in Brussels where he is known as a vastly experienced operator.