Britain’s man in Brussels bids goodbye
quarta-feira, 4 de janeiro de 2017
Britain’s man in Brussels bids goodbye / VIDEO:Nigel Farage - EU Ambassador Ivan Rogers Has Gone We Now Need A Politica...
Britain’s man in Brussels bids goodbye
Good news for hard Brexiteers. Bad news for everybody else.
By TOM MCTAGUE AND CHARLIE COOPER 1/4/17, 5:36 AM CET Updated 1/4/17, 5:48 AM CET
LONDON – Ivan Rogers had repeatedly threatened to quit as the U.K.’s ambassador to the EU. On Tuesday he finally did, sending shockwaves through London and Brussels.
Trying to bridge the gap betweens Britain’s hopes for EU reform and the reality of what the rest of Europe was willing to offer, Rogers had become exasperated under former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, senior officials in London have revealed. “I’ve lost count of the number of times Ivan threatened to resign,” one Cameron adviser was quoted as saying in All Out War, a book about the referendum.
Under the current government’s demand of a full-blown Brexit that retains access to the single market, the gulf became too wide, according to conversations with senior officials in London and Brussels Tuesday.
When it came, his resignation caught the British government off-guard, exposing cracks in an administration struggling to contain the fallout from the public’s rejection of the establishment in June’s referendum.
In Westminster, there was only one interpretation Tuesday: Rogers’ decision to throw in the towel before the Brexit talks have even begun is good news for hard Brexiteers and bad news for everybody else.
In his resignation note, which was obtained by the BBC, Rogers told colleagues: “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.”
Despite Rogers’ widely-known concerns about Brexit, his resignation left Westminster stunned and sparked allegations of chaos and amateurism at the heart of government. With barely three months to go before the most complex diplomatic negotiation in British history, the U.K. has lost its most experienced Brussels fixer.
Nick Macpherson, the permanent secretary at the Treasury to former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, said Rogers’ decision was a “huge loss” to the government. He said he could not understand the “wilful [and] total destruction of EU expertise.” It was not clear from his comment, made on Twitter, who was doing the destroying but on decisions at this level of the civil service, the buck stops with May.
Government sources tried to play down the news, insisting it made sense for Rogers to leave before the negotiations start in the spring.
Macpherson also accused the prime minister of sidelining senior figures in the civil service with expertise on Europe. Tom Scholar, Macpherson’s replacement at the Treasury, is now “out of the loop,” on the exit talks, Macpherson said, alongside other senior figures in government, including the former British permanent representative to the EU Jon Cunliffe, now at the Bank of England.
The unusually candid remarks from a former senior civil servant expose mounting frustration within government at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations. There is a growing perception that she is pursuing a clean break from Brussels, driven by the demands of her party and the hardliners in her government, led by the U.K.’s Brexit Secretary David Davis, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
Osborne himself paid tribute on Twitter to a “perceptive, pragmatic and patriotic public servant.” His reference to Rogers’ commitment to the U.K. appeared to be a thinly veiled rebuttal to the diplomat’s numerous right-wing critics, many of whom viewed him as a signed-up Europhile who went native many years ago. The description is ironic — many pro-Europeans saw him as too Euroskeptic when he was appointed by Cameron in 2013.
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Britain's ambassador to the European Union Ivan Rogers at the EU headquarters in Brussels on June 28, 2016
David Cameron, then British prime minister, walks with Ivan Rogers at the EU headquarters in Brussels on June 28, 2016 | Thierry Charlier/AFP via Getty Images
One early tip to replace Rogers is Kim Darroch, a former EU permanent representative who is currently the U.K. ambassador in Washington. Darroch is already under pressure to be replaced, given U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s public courting of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Despite Macpherson’s concerns, Cunliffe and Scholar could also still be in the frame.
Exits before Brexit
Rogers’ resignation follows the departure of his deputy Shan Morgan in November. The prime minister’s official spokeswoman Helen Bower — an expert on Brussels — has also recently announced that she is leaving her post, choosing to return to the Foreign Office instead of continuing in Number 10.
Jill Rutter, a director at the Institute for Government and former senior civil servant, said it was a blow for the U.K.’s permanent representation to the EU.
“To lose the top two officials at the same time risks the loss of big networks of contacts and potential capital assembled over years which could have been useful in negotiations,” Rutter said.
Government sources tried to play down the news, insisting it made sense for Rogers to leave before the negotiations start in the spring and pointing out that he was due to stand down at the end of October anyway.
However, the timing of the announcement raised eyebrows in Whitehall as it came months after the prime minister first announced plans to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. “It doesn’t appear to have been handled for minimum impact,” one former high-ranking Whitehall official said. “If they were trying, they certainly haven’t succeeded.”
Former Europe Minister Denis MacShane said Rogers was “sending a signal on behalf of his wing of the British establishment and state that Brexit can turn into a monumental disaster unless handled carefully and with far more political courage than the prime minister has managed so far.”
A government caught off-guard
Rogers’ decision appeared to catch British officials in Brussels and London by surprise. There was no official announcement or polite exchange of pleasantries as would normally be expected. The news leaked out barely an hour after the prime minister’s team had briefed the press on the day’s news without a mention of the impending resignation.
It took two hours before an official statement confirming the departure was released. No explanation for his decision was given.
Rogers had become a whipping boy for the Euroskeptic press after the leak of a memo from him, warning Number 10 that a trade deal with the EU could take as much as 10 years.
“The Foreign Office needs a complete clear out” — Nigel Farage
Leading Brexiteers were quick to welcome his decision to quit. Farage suggested that many other pro-EU civil servants should go the same way. “The Foreign Office needs a complete clear out,” he said on Twitter.
Conservative MP Dominic Raab, a close ally of Brexit Secretary Davis, told POLITICO: “Sir Ivan is a distinguished diplomat with a long record of public service. He didn’t exactly hide the fact that his heart wasn’t in Brexit, and he was due to step down in the autumn anyway. It makes sense all round to give the ambassador who will see the negotiations through some lead time.”
On the other side of the fence, there was barely concealed despair. Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, said the resignation makes “a good deal on Brexit less likely,” describing Rogers as “one of the [very] few people at top of [the British government] who understand EU.”
Paul Adamson, one of the British grandees in Brussels and a longtime friend of Rogers, said: “This is serious. This is worrying. This is troubling.” Adamson, who now works as a consultant, said that “20 years ago Ivan was the chief of staff to Commissioner Leon Brittan. This is a man who knows his way around Europe. He is not someone who tries to make trouble, to be difficult. He is someone with lots of friendships, lots of access, perhaps more than any other perm rep, and now that is lost.”
“It is rather sinister, and feeds into the narrative that the government can’t agree (on how to handle Brexit) and in effect doesn’t know what it’s doing.”
Referring to the demands of Farage and others, he added: “What do they want? An ethnic cleansing of diplomats? It makes everyone rather incredulous [here in Brussels] if the only way to be considered a team player for the U.K. is to be blindly oblivious to how Europe works.”
Ryan Heath in Brussels contributed reporting.