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”.
Sir Tim Barrow, who was the rush pick last night (5 January), following Sir Ivan Rogers’ shock resignation on Tuesday, will take up his role “next week”, according to the UK Foreign Office.
As well as the physical logistics of moving family and furniture to Brussels, he faces one of the toughest ‘reading in’ periods on a new job in recent diplomatic history: disentangling the legal, financial and economic ties of the UK’s 44-year membership of the bloc by 2019.
That is seen by many within the diplomatic world as the most challenging task facing the UK since the end of World War Two, whether one is a ‘Remainer’ or a ‘Leaver’.
Of course, according to strict British civil service neutrality, Barrow is neither, and nor was Rogers. But he replaces a man some on the right of the Conservative Party in London, not to mention the UKIP MEPs faction, saw as being too ‘native’ in Brussels.
Since his resignation, Rogers has also taken the blame among some elements of the UK’s right-wing press for the ‘failure’ of David Cameron’s pre-referendum attempt to secure a new, better, deal for Britain which might have ‘won’ the narrow 52%-48% vote in June last year.
But Barrow is no Brussels neophyte. In a 30-year career with the Foreign Office, he previously served as the UK’s ambassador to Moscow – under the emerging new Cold War with Vladimir Putin, probably the most challenging posting outside a war zone. (As well as the usual bugging and espionage, a previous incumbent was harassed by Putin-supporting nationalist youth.)
Prior to that, Barrow is, in fact, an old Brussels hand himself, having served as the UK Representative to the Political and Security Committee of the EU from 2008-11.
In earlier, more junior roles, he also had a spell as an assistant director in the Europe Directorate and as a first secretary in the UK Rep, as it is known.
In his first official comments on his appointment last night, Barrow was brief but optimistic, and keen to praise the “strong leadership” at the Department for Exiting the EU in London, something pointedly not said by Rogers in his explosive resignation email.
Rogers had described “ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” in London.
Barrow called it a “crucial time” and added, “I look forward to joining the strong leadership team at the Department for Exiting the EU and working with them and the talented staff at UKRep to ensure we get the right outcome for the United Kingdom as we leave the EU.”
When Rogers resigned on Tuesday (3 January), there was no official reaction from either Prime Minister Theresa May or Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Even the European Commission paid tribute, with a spokeswoman describing Rogers as “a very professional, very knowledgeable while not always easy interlocutor and diplomat”.
By contrast, both Johnson and David Davis, the minister responsible for Brexit, were quick to sing Barrow’s praises.
Johnson said: “Tim Barrow has been invaluable since I joined the Foreign Office in July and I want to personally thank him for his relentless energy, wise counsel and steadfast commitment. He is just the man to get the best deal for the UK and will lead UKRep with the same skill and leadership he has shown throughout his career. I wish him all the best.”
Davis said he would be “able to hit the ground running”. He added: “”UKRep will have a crucial role to play in the negotiation over the UK’s exit from the EU, and Sir Tim Barrow will add to the already extensive experience it brings.
“His knowledge of Brussels means he will be able to hit the ground running at a vital time, and steer UKRep throughout the negotiation period. I am confident that with his help, the UK will be able to forge a new relationship with the EU that works to the mutual benefit of both sides.”
According to Downing Street, Barrow is a “seasoned and tough negotiator”, with “energy and creativity”.
His appointment had to be signed off by May herself.
Quite what that is, even May herself may not know yet. The premier has until March 2017, when she committed to triggering Article 50, to set out the UK government’s negotiating objectives, and is rumoured to be planning a speech in February setting out her stall.
Whilst Rogers had been condemned as a Europhile by Nigel Farage, he was equally scathing about his successor, tweeting: “Good to see that the government have replaced a knighted career diplomat with… a knighted career diplomat.”