LONDON — The British ambassador to the European Union has unexpectedly resigned just three months before Theresa May intends to trigger Article 50 and initiate exit talks, 10 Downing Street confirmed.
Sir Ivan Rogers, who worked closely with former prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair, told staff on Tuesday afternoon that he’ll be leaving his post much earlier than expected, according to the Financial Times.
The BBC reports that his resignation was due to “some failure of synchronicity” between himself and May’s government, after first being elected to the role by Cameron in 2013.
Rogers was expected to renew his position when his 4-year-term expires in November so that he could play a leading role in talks between Britain and the EU. His shock resignation means the UK government has lost one of its most experienced and knowledgeable negotiators just weeks before withdrawal talks get underway at the end of March.
An official government spokesperson said: “Sir Ivan Rogers has resigned a few months early as UK Permanent Representative to the European Union. 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. We are grateful for his work and commitment over the last three years.”
Charles Grant, director for the Centre For European Reform and EU expert, tweeted saying Rogers’ departure damages the UK government’s hopes of negotiating a favourable Brexit deal with the EU, saying the seasoned diplomat is “one of the very few people at top of Brit govt who understand [the] EU.”
Nick MacPherson, who served as Whitehall’s head of the Treasury from 2005 to 2016, tweeted saying Rogers is a “huge loss” and accused the government of embarking on a “destruction” of EU expertise.
Rogers did not give an explicit reason for his shock resignation, according to sources who have seen the note he sent to colleagues. His European counterparts expecting him to see out divorce talks between Britain and the EU, which will take at least two years to complete.
Reacting to the news, Labour MP Hilary Benn, who chairs the Brexit select committee, said Rogers’ decision to step down had come at a “crucial” time and told the Tory government to “get its skates on” in finding a successor.
“It couldn’t be a more difficult time to organise a handover,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme.
The former ambassador enjoyed a longstanding and reasonably amicable working relationship with Prime Minister May. However, last month he came under fire from pro-Brexit Tories for suggesting that a UK-EU trade deal could take 10 years to negotiate, a warning that numerous trade and legal experts have also made in the past few months.
Dominic Raab MP described him as “the diplomat who persuaded David Cameron to dilute his ambitions for the renegotiation which was one reason why the referendum was lost, so he’s been scarred by his own pessimistic advice in the past.”
Rogers had a reputation among Eurosceptic MPs like Raab and other prominent Brexiteers for being pessimistic when it came to evaluating Britain’s chances of success outside the EU. Former UKIP leader donor Nigel Farage tweeted saying he welcomed the news as the foreign office needs a “complete clear out” while his ally and UKIP donor Arron Banks said Rogers was “yet another of the establishment’s pro-EU old guard”.
Nevertheless, this development is a huge blow to May’s Brexit plans, with the tasks of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU and striking new trade deal with the 28-nation bloc now looking more difficult than ever.
Rogers (middle) is pictured below.
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