Brexit is a major national 'crisis' which may trigger a public inquiry, says former UK ambassador

Jack Taylor/Getty ImagesBritain’s former Ambassador to the European Union Sir Ivan Rogers.
  • Brexit is a national crisis which could lead to a major public inquiry, according to the UK’s former chief ambassador to the European Union.
  • Sir Ivan Rogers told Business Insider that UK politicians and officials should be going through “a hell of a lot of reflection” on how they have handled Britain’s exit from the EU.
  • He also said that Theresa May “didn’t know very much” about the EU at the beginning of the Brexit process.
  • Rogers resigned in 2017 and has been a blunt critic of the UK government’s approach to Brexit ever since.

LONDON – The government’s handling of Brexit is creating a political, constitutional and economic “crisis” which could result in a major public inquiry, the United Kingdom’s former ambassador to the European Union told Business Insider.

Sir Ivan Rogers – who resigned as the UK’s most senior representative to the EU in 2017 – said on Monday that politicians and officials should be doing “a hell of a lot of reflection” on how they have managed Brexit.

Asked whether he thought there would eventually be a public inquiry into how the government managed the UK’s departure from the EU, he said he was sceptical about how “healthy” such an inquiry would be for the country when it is so “divided,” but said that the scale of the crisis might lead to it.

“We have a British tradition of holding inquiries years later,” Rogers told BI on Monday.

He added: “It’s so raw at the moment and my worry as a citizen is that the state of the country is more divided and bitter than it was in 2016.”

“If we are going to come through the Brexit crisis – and it is a constitutional, political crisis and may turn into an economic one – you somehow have got to be united behind some form of Brexit which works for a large number of people across the spectrum. That’s not where we are headed at the moment.

“Does a public inquiry help with that? Or does it scratch way at very raw wounds? I’m not sure.”

The former diplomat added: “That isn’t to say that the system shouldn’t be going through a hell of a lot of reflection as to how the hell we ended up here and whether we organised ourselves effectively over the last 13 months.

“The system is suffering. It’s not just Whitehall – it’s the political system. Has the system, both Houses and Whitehall, got a lot to think about in terms of how we handled this? And if we could we have done it better? Yes.”

Since resigning in February 2017, Rogers has made a series of interventions about the performance of Theresa May’s government in negotiations with the EU.

Speaking at the Institute for Government on Monday, Rogers said that the prime minister and people around here “didn’t know very much about European councils or that much about the European Union” when he was in his post.

He added that many government documents on Brexit were “highly entertaining to read” as they outlined a “litany of things” regarding EU membership which the UK government wants to keep, despite trying to leave the bloc.

He also predicted that the UK would be in negotiations with the EU for years and potentially decades to come, dismissing suggestions that the UK will soon embark on a clean break from Brussels as “fantasies.”

“These fantasies of release and liberation – they are fantasies,” he told the IfG.

“We are going to be negotiating on everything from aviation to farming for evermore with our biggest neighbour. We cannot live in glorious isolation. Talk to the Swiss and to the Norwegians – they live in a permanent state of negotiation with the EU.”

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