UK ‘plotted to bring in pro-Brexit diplomat’ above Sir Ivan Rogers’ head

Sir Ivan Rogers (centre) last year, during a trip to Senegal. [UK government]

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, resigned after the government planned to bring in another diplomat above his head to handle the Brexit negotiations, it was claimed yesterday (4 January).

The UK government’s plan was to sideline Sir Rogers once Article 50, the legal process taking Britain out of the EU, was triggered, two British sources in Brussels told EURACTIV.com.

Both said that a new figure, most likely from elsewhere in the foreign office but outside of Brussels, would be brought in around March.

Last night, Rogers’ replacement after his shock resignation was announced. Sir Tim Barrow, a career diplomat and Britain’s envoy to Russia, was chosen. Theresa May was reported to have ignored calls from some in her Conservative Party, who were pushing for a wholeheartedly pro-Brexit candidate.

Sir Tim Barrow: New EU ambassador is ex-Moscow and 'tough negotiator'

The fresh British ambassador to the EU – charged with picking up the portfolio just two months before Brexit negotiations are triggered – is a former ambassador to Moscow, described as a “tough negotiator”.

The sources said that Rogers’ resignation was a shock and had upset the plans to ease him out of the Brexit negotiations.

British government figures had felt that Rogers was too willing to accept the EU’s usual procedures and rules, the sources said.

His replacement would stress that the “normal rulebook” would not apply with Brexit, and take a much tougher line with the EU, according to both sources.

“While Sir Ivan would remain the titular head, he would have essentially become a lame duck,” one source said.

“Rogers would be front of house but the real power would be behind the scenes with the new guy.  He would be the bad cop to Ivan’s good cop,” one source said.

“Ivan would basically be minding the paperclips while the new guy did the Brexit talks. And of course he would have to carry the can if anything went wrong.”

Asked about the plan, a spokeswoman for the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU said they had nothing to add to an earlier statement made after news of Rogers’ resignation broke.

“Sir Ivan has taken this decision now to enable a successor to be appointed before the UK invokes Article 50 by the end of March,” she said.

Westminster sources denied there was a plot to parachute someone in over Rogers’ head.

UK ambassador’s damning final email: ‘Speak truth to power’

The resigning UK ambassador to the EU warned colleagues to “speak truth to power” and “challenge muddled thinking”, in an unprecedentedly blunt departing email, it emerged on Tuesday (3 January).

One source said that feelings against Rogers hardened after Brexit chief David Davis’ visit to Brussels and Strasbourg in November.

“Davis was confronted with some realities he didn’t like,” said the source, “Ivan set out some of those arguments and a feeling developed that he might not be the right individual [to carry on the Brexit talks].”

“They didn’t want to remove him entirely because of the expertise that he has and they need. His resignation has put the cat among the pigeons.”

The source said there was talk that the new individual could have been a political rather than civil service appointment.

Rogers, a pivotal figure in David Cameron’s EU reform negotiations before the referendum, resigned on Tuesday (3 January), less than three months before Theresa May’s deadline for the triggering of Article 50.

The Times reported yesterday that the turning point in relations between Rogers and Downing Street came in the second week of December during the European Council in Brussels.

That morning he reportedly warned ministers it would take ten years to finalise a post-Brexit trade deal.

After Number 10 failed to back him, Rogers made his mind up to resign, according to The Times. The decision came after clashes with Davis over Brexit.

In it, he wrote, “We do not yet know what the government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK’s relationship with the EU after exit.

“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.”

Background

Britain’s ambassador to the EU has unexpectedly resigned, just weeks before the UK triggers Article 50 to begin negotiating its exit from the bloc.

The Financial Times first broke the news early Tuesday afternoon (3 January), with confirmation coming an hour or so later from the UK permanent representation in Brussels.

Sir Ivan Rogers has led the embassy since late 2013 – including guiding David Cameron’s lengthy attempts at renegotiating UK membership last year, ahead of the fateful June 2016 referendum.

The shock departure, just eight weeks before the March 2017 deadline set by Prime Minister Theresa May to begin the two-year Brexit negotiations, took both London and Brussels by surprise.