An influential committee in the British Parliament will this week complain about the appointment of Ivan Rogers as Britain's permanent representative to the European Union in Brussels after its attempts to ‘vet’ him were rebuffed.
A potential British exit from the European Union came to the top of the political agenda after Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must use the upheaval created by the eurozone crisis to forge a new relationship with the European Union.
In January, Cameron promised to offer Britons a simple ‘in/out’ referendum choice on whether to stay in the European Union if he wins the next election, scheduled for 2015.
Britain has negotiated a number of opt-outs from key EU policy areas since its accession in 1973. The country is not part of the eurozone and has not signed the free-border Schengen Treaty and does not want to abide by a number of EU police and judicial cooperation rules.
Sir Jon Cunliffe, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, is leaving Brussels to join the Bank of England as deputy governor. Ivan Rogers, currently working as Prime Minister David Cameron’s adviser on Europe and global issues, was yesterday (4 September) formally named as Cunliffe’s replacement, starting in November.
Rogers will be taking over at a delicate time in the UK's relations with the EU, with Cameron seeking to repatriate powers from Brussels to London, and his party pledging an in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017.
MP Bill Cash, the chairman of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, wrote to Cameron requesting that his committee question Rogers in advance of his appointment.
Cash said that since the post of permanent representative involves legislative decision-making that comes under the remit of his committee, “it is an issue of accountability to Parliament”.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague replied to the committee refusing the request on the grounds that there were never pre-appointment hearings for ambassadors in the UK.
William Hague's response unsatisfactory
Cash – a leading conservative eurosceptic – told EurActiv yesterday that his committee was not satisfied that Rogers had been appointed without giving the committee the chance to interview him, and said that Hague’s letter ignored the important discretionary powers of the permanent representative in Brussels compared to other ambassadors.
Cash said that the committee - which met yesterday when it discussed the issue - would write to the government to complain that its request had been rebuffed, refused to be drawn on what actions it may take, but stressed that the group had the right to summon witnesses to appear before it if necessary.
Cash added that he believed that the UK parliament’s liaison committee – another influential body which consists of the chairmen of all the other committees – was also dissatisfied with the development.
Ivan Rogers is credited with strengthening the UK’s relations with Germany in recent months, a critical relationship if Cameron is to succeed in his aim of repatriating significant powers from Brussels.
His background is sensitive within the Conservative party’s eurosceptic wing, however. In the 1990s he worked as chief of staff to the vice-president of the European Commission, Lord Leon Brittan, and he previously worked as a political private secretary to Kenneth Clarke, the then chancellor of the exchequer.
Both Brittan and Clarke are seen as figurehead pro-Europeans within the Conservative party.
- 1 November 2013: Ivan Rogers takes up appointment as UK permanent representative in Brussels