Aides to US President-elect Donald Trump recently asked EU officials over the phone which countries will be next to leave the bloc after Britain, outgoing US ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner said. Gardner was told about the conversations by EU institution staff members, but was not in on the calls.
Trump has expressed support for the UK’s vote to leave the EU and suggested that former UKIP leader Nigel Farage should be made the UK’s new ambassador to the United States. Farage, one of the most outspoken supporters of Brexit, was photographed smiling with Trump in his New York flagship hotel days after he won the US election.
It would be the “height of folly” for the US to express support for Brexit, Gardner told reporters today (13 January), one week before he leaves his post in Brussels.
Despite their differences on Brexit, Farage recently requested to meet with Gardner, who became US ambassador to the EU in 2014.
“I take huge exception to some of the things he’s done,” Gardner said. The US diplomat said he has never met Farage, who he called “off the political reservation”, and has responded to his request but not yet arranged a meeting.
Gardner said questions from Trump’s staff to EU officials about which countries will leave the bloc reflect “the perception that Nigel Farage is presumably disseminating in Washington. And it’s a caricature”.
The US ambassador will be ousted from his post on 20 January, the day Trump takes office. Gardner received a message from Washington on 23 December informing him that he and other political appointees must leave their jobs by Trump’s inauguration day.
That marks a “breach of precedent that’s been established for decades”, Gardner said. Earlier incoming presidents have allowed diplomats to stay on for weeks or months before replacing them, according to the diplomat, whose father worked in foreign missions under two US presidents.
“The human impact of a guillotined exit on January 20 is substantial,” he said.
Gardner quoted from a candid departing email that former UK ambassador to the EU Ivan Rogers sent to embassy staff, saying they should “speak truth to power”. Rogers abruptly quit his job earlier this month over his alleged disagreements with the UK government on negotiations for a Brexit agreement with the EU. The UK diplomat “paid the price” for being outspoken, Gardner said.
“I very much respect what he did. I wish we had more people in political life who did that,” he added.
Gardner said it would be damaging if the incoming Trump administration cherrypicks stronger bilateral ties with some European partners like the UK and Germany and neglects the EU institutions.
Angela Merkel should avoid that by using her political leverage to make the case for the EU in Washington, the US diplomat said.
“I hope Germany passes the message to the new team: ‘Don’t think about splitting the EU’,” Gardner said.
When Gardner took office in Brussels three years ago, he promised to speed up TTIP negotiations between the EU and the US. But the talks floundered as public support for the trade deal in EU countries disintegrated. Trump has taken a protectionist position on trade and argued to rip up international deals that hurt US workers, causing widespread speculation that TTIP talks will be put on ice.
“On trade we didn’t get to where we wanted. That is probably going to be my biggest regret,” Gardner admitted.
The ambassador told reporters that despite the deadlock on TTIP, his office overcame an icy period in US relations with the EU. Ten months before he took office, Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing US intelligence agencies’ broad surveillance activity sparked outrage across Europe about the reach of American spying.
In July 2016, EU and US negotiators brokered the Privacy Shield agreement that allows companies to transfer personal data to the United States on the condition that they guarantee it is protected to privacy standards on par with EU laws.
“I hope in four years we’re not back where we were in the immediate aftermath of the Snowden revelations,” Gardner said.
Before he became ambassador to the EU, Gardner worked for years in private equity and law firms. He told reporters he will remain in Europe after leaving his post in Brussels next week.