4.1.17

U.K's EU Ambassador Abruptly Quits - PM May Appoints New EU Envoy

Ivan Rogers, London’s Ambassador to the European Union, told his staff on Tuesday that he would step down from his post within a matter of weeks, instead of the original October 2017. Rogers’ resignation after three years of service came without warning, and has raised questions about the ability of British Prime Minister Theresa May to successfully negotiate an exit from the European Union. Rogers was widely regarded as one of the country’s most experienced diplomats concerning EU affairs, and his departure closely follows that of Jonathan Hill, Britain’s European Commissioner, this June.

Following the surprise resignation of veteran diplomat Ivan Rogers on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Tim Barrow to replace him as Ambassador to the European Union. Barrow is political director of the Foreign Commonwealth Office and has previously served as Ambassador to Moscow. Barrow is a 30-year veteran of the British civil service and he is not known to have strong views on the “Brexit” issue. Rogers, on the other hand, is widely regarded as a critic of London’s Brexit policies. Rogers’ resignation letter to his staff, leaked late Tuesday, has caused some embarrassment for the May government.

The Cipher Take:

Brexit supporters are already cheering the exit of another “Europhile” from Prime Minister May’s team. Rogers was known for bucking his leadership on EU issues, including warning senior officials last October that Brexit trade negotiations could extend into the late 2020s. This was not a quality appreciated by “Brexiteers” but the loss of yet another highly experienced EU diplomat will surely hurt the UK’s chances of negotiating a favorable exit from the EU. Rogers’ reasons for leaving are unclear, but his departure is just one more sign that London is headed for a rocky divorce from the Union when May triggers the Article 50 EU exit clause this March.

In his leaked resignation letter, Rogers accuses Theresa May and her cabinet of “muddled thinking” in planning for negotiations to leave the EU this year, and bemoans the lack of “serious multilateral negotiating experience” in Whitehall. Supporters of Brexit have long criticized Rogers for his perceived bias toward the EU, and pushed for his replacement with a more pliant representative. Barrow is a more neutral pick, likely designed to soothe the concerns of long-term civil service members. Still, Rogers’ surprise departure does not bode well for the May government. The Prime Minister has consistently refused to announce her Brexit plans, arguing that this would weaken Britain’s negotiating position. However, as March – May’s self-imposed deadline for triggering Brexit – approaches, many are beginning to wonder if, as Rogers suggested in his letter, she has any plan at all.

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