UK premier Theresa May has been accused of “failing to listen” to Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s recently departed ambassador to the EU.
Rogers, who had been critical of the UK government’s reticence to come forward with a clear Brexit strategy, resigned from the Brussels post on Tuesday and was swiftly replaced by Sir Tim Barrow, another career diplomat.
Rogers’ resignation sparked a war of words, with prominent British pro-Brexit politicians Iain Duncan Smith and Peter Lilley accusing the diplomat of "sour grapes" while former senior civil servant Lord Ricketts attacked the "denigration" of the long-serving bureaucrat.
But Andrew Duff, a former Liberal MEP, said the “real reason” Rogers went was that the British prime minister had “ceased to listen to him – or at least, that she makes no effort to appear to hear what he has to say.”
Duff, now a visiting fellow at the Brussels-based think tank, European Policy Centre, based his assessment on an “impeccable source.”
He added, “This is foolish behaviour by Theresa May, as well as insulting. She is a cool fish. But not to consult and inform her chief negotiator in Brussels about her plans was bound to lead to a bust up.”
Duff said, “Being an honourable man, who will be much missed in Brussels, Rogers was careful in his message to the UKREP staff not to point the finger directly at Downing Street. But he did say this, with stunning veracity: “We do not yet know what the Government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK’s relationship with the EU after exit”.
He added, “And it is that statement that is left echoing throughout the chancelleries of Europe.”
May has promised MPs that she will set out her negotiating objectives early in the New Year.
Duff said, “That speech cannot come soon enough. But do not expect her to bare all – not least because, as Rogers has exposed, there’s still more muddle than strategy in Whitehall.”
While some, like Duff, have called on May to set out the UK government’s Brexit strategy as soon as possible, others say there is no rush.
They include Simon Wolfson, CEO of clothing retailer Next, who said, “It would be helpful to understand the principles and objectives of the Government with which they are going to enter [the Brexit] negotiations.
“But I would much rather that the Government came up with a good plan than something rushed out to get rid of people worried about uncertainty. It would be a mistake to rush it.”
He also suggested that greater openness on immigration policy after Brexit would be particularly helpful for retail businesses, given that the latter directly employ a large proportion of nationals of other EU member states.