David Cameron, and Britain’s ambassador to the European Union, Ivan Rogers. THIERRY CHARLIER/AFP/Getty Images
Sir Ivan Rogers, UK Ambassador to the EU, has resigned. The commentariat cries “Why?” and theories float of internal chaos, side-lining of dissent, revenge for leaks, or pique at one’s representation in EU referendum histories. The answer given by Sir Ivan himself in his email to staff is, by contrast, rather mundane and convincing:
“I started here in November 2013. My four-year tour is therefore due to end in October…it is obvious that it will be best if the top team in situ at the time that Article 50 is invoked remains there till the end of the process and can also see through the negotiations for any new deal between the UK and the EU27. It would obviously make no sense for my role to change hands later this year. I have therefore decided to step down now”.
So Sir Ivan says he’s decided to step down because it’ll be better if there’s the same person acting as EU Ambassador throughout the Article 50 negotiations, rather than one person for the first few months then someone new for the rest. You can say he’s lying if you like but wouldn’t that simple reason be enough reason all by itself, even without any of the other reasons offered?
My first thought on this is… “Ambassador to the EU”? Doesn’t that title say rather a lot. (Yes, yes, I know he’s technically called “Her Britannic Majesty’s Permanent Representative to the European Union”, but even the US has a “Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary”.) But we’re leaving the EU anyway, so let’s not get into that again…
My next is: so some bloke who wasn’t going to be there for much longer anyway, and who has had six months since the referendum to pass on his knowledge and insights and advice to others, isn’t going to be there for the very start of the Article 50 negotiations. I can see how this might make an “And finally…” slot on the New at Ten and justify fifteen re-tweets for a laudatory blog. But, for Pete’s sake! How is this justifying extended news coverage and comment on the second day? Beyond Brexit obsessives who decided participating in the EU referendum wasn’t enough – they had to spend the next six months reading histories about it as well – who had even heard of Sir Ivan Rogers before yesterday? This notion that he is some essential component in the government’s Brexit negotiating machine is beyond me. He wasn’t due to lead the negotiations, or anything like lead them. He was a useful glad-hander, who’d been around the block a bit (but without notable success in negotiating anything with the EU).
I’ve got nothing against the guy. It’s not his fault Cameron didn’t manage to renegotiate anything of substance in 2015/16. The last time we had any chance at a serious renegotiation was in 2010, well before Sir Ivan was in charge at UKREP. In some circles he’s criticised at having been too negative about Cameron’s renegotiation proposals. But from what I could see at the time, that’s probably because most of the things Cameron and his team were asking for were absurd and impossible.
If I’d been UKREP and Cameron’s team had asked how they could implement his 2014 Party Conference speech saying he’d end Free Movement I’d have probably said something along the lines of “Well, you see, that could be tricky, since we’re in this thing called the ‘European Union’ where there’s common European Citizenship the central aspect of which is that you can go where you like, and we’re also in this thing called the ‘Single Market’, which is an area of free movement of products (goods and services) and factors of production (capital and labour). Ending free movement would, by definition, mean leaving both the EU and the Single Market. We could try doing that, if you like, but I’ve a feeling that’s not what you are asking of me?” Their diaries might well have described me as negative and unconstructive as well. My diaries might have described them less generously…
I wish Sir Ivan luck in his future endeavours. But it’s blatantly obvious that we need fresh sets of eyes on all these issues and people who intend to last out the process. That’s not a matter of sidelining dissent, ignoring expertise or politicising the civil service. It’s just common sense – isn’t it?