Sir Ivan Rogers leaves May’s small tent

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Sir Ivan Rogers (right) resigned as Britain's ambassador to the EU on Tuesday (3 January). [European Union]

Sir Ivan Rogers was not a Foreign Office smoothie, the kind of charming brilliant diplomat who used to live in the Rue Ducale and out-negotiate the Eurocrats with effortless ease, writes Denis MacShane, reflecting on the sudden departure of the UK’s envoy to the EU.

Denis MacShane is the former UK Minister of Europe whose book on Brexit published in 2015 predicted how it would happen. He is a senior Advisor at Avisa Partners, Brussels.

Rogers is a hard-nosed free market Treasury wallah who was the highest of high-flyers in the Treasury, the most Eurosceptic of all Whitehall departments prior to Brexit. He has also done stints in the private sector in the City but was brought back to be point man for David Cameron in Brussels in 2012.

He was one of the rare “Yes Minister” Whitehall knights who was ready to tell truth to power. Daniel Korski, a Cameron aide, wrote the most revealing insider account of why Cameron failed to win his referendum and said of Rogers: “If there was one person who tried to flag the gulf that existed between the UK and the rest of the EU it was Ivan Rogers. He could be infuriating, but he was right on many of the big issues, including that what the Conservative Party was asking for was not something that European leaders would ever agree to provide.

Korski goes on: “Ivan’s scorn for the right of the Tories seemed only rivalled by his hatred of the European leaders. He had few kind words for the Whitehall departments he believed had long since given up trying to understand Europe.”

So if Korksi is to be believed Rogers had fewer and fewer friends and more and enemies. So poor is media reporting in Westminister of the real power battles inside the British government that no-one picked up on Korski’s analysis. But with a prime minister who is so cautious she appears hesitant to cross the road, Rogers had no mandate and a permanent rep in the EU without clear orders and a direction of travel is powerless.

The problem is that Mrs. May appears to be utterly beholden to the more UKIP end of her Conservative Party. The 3 Musketeers of Brexit – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox make no secret of their willingness to confront a train crash Brexit. If there are pro-Single Market senior Tories, they are silent while Labour has gone into its own cul-de-sac about immigration, which is a sure way to alienate every EU head of government.

Roger’s resignation has a heroic air to it, like Captain Oates walking out of the tent in Scott’s doomed mission to the South Pole, saying, “I may be some time.”

He is sending a signal on above of his wing of the British establishment and state that Brexit can turn into a monumental disaster unless handled carefully and with far more political courage than the prime minister has managed so far.

But last night in London the isolationists are opening the champagne left over from New Year. And those who want to save Britain from being cut off from foreign direct investment and influence and the world’s biggest market are again left without much to say.

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