The UK has no plan for Brexit, says ambassador to EU in parting letter

A resignation letter from Ivan Rogers, Britain's former envoy to the European Union, criticizes how Theresa May's government is going about the process.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Britain's ambassador to the European Union, Ivan Rogers, is pictured leaving the EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium, on June 28, 2016. Sir Rogers announced his resignation this week.

The British ambassador to the European Union, Sir Ivan Rogers, resigned this week amid differences with the government of Prime Minister Theresa May.

In a farewell letter to his staff, which was leaked to British media, Sir Rogers delivered what seemed to be a veiled attack on the May government’s approach on Brexit, urging his former staff to “continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” and not to be afraid “to speak the truth to those in power.” 

The former envoy also confirmed suspicions that the government had no clear plan for how it would pilot Britain out of the EU, despite Ms. May’s contention that it should be able to keep key details under wraps in order not to tip its hand during negotiations.

“We do not yet know what the government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK's relationship with the EU after exit,” wrote Rogers.

“There is much we will not know until later this year about the political shape of the EU itself, and who the political protagonists in any negotiation with the UK will be.”

“Serious multilateral negotiating experience is in short supply” in May’s government, he added, “and that is not the case in the (European) Commission or in the Council.”

The letter will provide fodder for the opposition and critics who accuse the May government of being unprepared for Brexit. It also seems to underscore the importance of an upcoming high court decision on whether the government needs to seek the approval of Parliament before formally initiating the exit process.

That decision, The Christian Science Monitor noted in December, will be of historic importance:

In essence, the court must decide whether Prime Minister Theresa May and her government can invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which governs the process of any member state leaving the EU, of their own accord, or whether they must first consult the rest of Parliament, Britain’s body of elected lawmakers.

In a reflection of how important this is – less because of Brexit, and more because of the constitutional implications – all 11 judges will be hearing the case, the first time that has happened since the Supreme Court was founded in 2009.

May says that Britain will formally trigger Article 50 by the end of March, a timetable cited by Rogers for his decision to resign now, in order to allow the next team to preside over the invocation and on into the negotiation process.

The leak of the letter drew criticism from allies of May’s government and other conservatives, coming weeks after Rogers’ warning that the Brexit process could drag out for years – or even fail, if EU member states withhold approval – was also leaked to the British press.

Former Conservative minister Iain Duncan Smith told The Telegraph that Rogers had undermined his position by “going public too often,” calling the letter a “sign of sour grapes.”

“This is now the second time it may actually prove that ministers may well be right to say that they weren't prepared perhaps to trust him quite the way they would have done with others,” he said.

The UK Independence Party, which led the campaign for leaving the EU, celebrated the news of his resignation, with European Parliament member Gerard Batten calling him a “Europhile,” and adding that May should “have removed him long before,” according to the Associated Press.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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