The Brief: Our Yes Man in Brussels?

The Brief is's evening newsletter.


Have the British replaced their man in Brussels with a Yes Man in Brussels?

Sir Tim Barrow was wheeled out as the new UK ambassador to the EU yesterday.  He is replacing Sir Ivan Rogers, who sensationally quit with just weeks to go before Article 50 is set to be triggered.

It is possibly a little unfair to say that Sir Tim was picked for the job because he will do what he is told. But two separate sources have told me exactly that, and a third told The FT much the same thing.

He seems to be very much a “Yes Minister” civil servant, despite his impeccable pedigree and reputation as a tough negotiator.

Rogers alienated ministers in Theresa May’s government because he had an annoying habit of telling them the truth. In particular, about how long it would take to finalise a post-Brexit trade deal.

Before Rogers jumped, EURACTIV was told, there was a plot to parachute in someone more accommodating to the government’s Brexit desires above his head.

The idea was Rogers would remain the friendly face at front of house but the new guy would have the power over the Brexit talks. The resignation ended all that.

Barrow is, like Rogers, an experienced career diplomat. He’s served his time in Moscow and in Brussels. Both are Oxbridge-educated veterans.

At this early stage, there appears to be one main difference the two men. Rogers told the likes of Theresa May and David Davis what they needed to know, Barrow will tell them what they want to hear. No wonder ministers call him “an optimist”.

In his resignation email, Rogers accused the government of “muddled thinking”. In response, May plans a speech next month to set out her vision of Brexit.

Depressingly, it all boils down to immigration.May will say that the UK will walk away from the single market to regain control of its borders.

With the EU resolute that access to the single market is conditional on freedom of movement, a hard Brexit is looking more and more likely.

Barrow may not be the man to warn ministers of the possible consequences for Britain from Brussels.


Günther Oettinger, a Brief favourite, makes a welcome return to the newsletter. You may remember his infamous “Slitty Eyes” speech.

Now a group of NGOs have called on MEPs to block his promotion to budget and human resources supremo because of his “racist, sexist and homophobic remarks”. You can find some of the written questions and answers for Oetti, ahead of his 9 January exchange of views, here.

Read Alex Barker on the importance of a Brexit transition deal, an issue that haunted Ivan Rogers. Here’s Simon Jenkins on why Britain will still need diplomats after Brexit.

The EU-27 are meeting in Malta this February without May. But Nigel Farage, who has snagged his own nightly radio show, is invited to Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The Greek government has launched an investigation into pharma giant Novartis and Spanish kids are being given too many antibiotics.

France is issuing professional ID cards to fight the fraudulent posting of workers in Europe. Meanwhile, Ukraine is going to ban Marine Le Pen from the country.

Belgium plans to step up scrutiny of passengers on trains, buses and boats after the March terror attacks. It will present a passenger data proposal to EU justice ministers at the end of January.

Tokyo is targeting an EU trade deal by the end of 2017. As we’ve seen with Wallonia and Canada, things are rarely that simple…

Daniel Boffey, formerly of The Observer, has been appointed Brussels bureau chief at The Guardian.


EURACTIV’s Davide Patteri tomorrow. It’s his birthday, so buy him a drink.

Views are the author’s alone. 

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