Govt accused of Brexit 'amateurism' as top official Ivan Rogers resigns
Rogers has quit after falling out with Tory Brexiteers.
Senior Conservatives have been accused of hounding out one of the UK’s most experienced diplomats, following the resignation of Britain’s ambassador to the EU.
The departure of Ivan Rogers, first reported by the Financial Times, has even prompted a former Treasury boss to lament the government’s “wilful and total destruction of EU expertise”.
It follows reports that knives were out for the ambassador in Whitehall, with some Tory ministers calling for him to be replaced with a diplomat who is more energetically pro-Brexit. Rogers recently annoyed Brexiteers by saying that a post-Brexit trade deal with the bloc could take up to a decade to achieve.
The Liberal Democrats were quick to seize on the news with former leader Nick Clegg claiming: "The resignation of somebody as experienced as Sir Ivan Rogers is a body blow to the Government's Brexit plans.”
Clegg, who is now his party’s EU spokesman, added: "I worked for Ivan Rogers in the EU twenty years ago - then he worked for me and the rest of the Coalition Government several years later. Throughout all that time Ivan was always punctiliously objective and rigorous in all he did and all the advice he provided.
"If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in Government, it counts as a spectacular own goal. The Government needs all the help it can get from good civil servants to deliver a workable Brexit."
Responding for the Open Britain campaign, New Labour architect Lord Mandelson said: “In terms of knowledge and experience of the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers is second to none in Whitehall. His resignation is a serious loss for us in Brussels.
“I would not expect him to comment further but everyone knows that civil servants are being increasingly inhibited in offering objective opinion and advice to ministers. Our negotiation as a whole will go nowhere if ministers are going to delude themselves about the immense difficulty and challenges Britain faces in implementing the referendum decision.”
The departure of Rogers also sparked a fierce attack by former Treasury permanent secretary Sir Nicholas Macpherson, who accused the government of “amateurism” in its Brexit approach.
However the eurosceptic Tory MP Dominic Raab said it was better for the ambassador to resign now, than wait until late 2017 as he had previously intended.
He said: “Sir Ivan is a distinguished diplomat with a long record of public service. He didn’t exactly hide the fact that his heart wasn’t in Brexit, and he was due to step down in the autumn anyway. It makes sense all round to give the ambassador who will see the negotiations through some lead time.”
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage welcomed the departure of Rogers, stating: “The Foreign Office needs a complete clear out.”
Similarly, the Ukip donor and Leave.EU founder, Arron Banks, said Rogers had been “far too much of a pessimist” about Brexit. “It’s time now for someone who is optimistic about the future that lies ahead for Brexit Britain,” he said.
Rogers was appointed by David Cameron, having previously worked as private secretary to Kenneth Clarke when he was chancellor.
Picture by: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/Press Association Images