The government is facing mounting pressure to respond after the UK’s ambassador to the EU attacked “muddled thinking” at the heart of its Brexit strategy in an extraordinary resignation letter.
Sir Ivan Rogers’ shock departure months before the start of EU exit talks prompted accusations that the government’s Brexit strategy was in “chaos”.
Last night Sir Tim Barrow, a former ambassador to Russia who has served in Brussels as deputy to the UK’s envoy to the EU, was named as Sir Ivan’s replacement.
Retired civil servants earlier claimed the political row over Brexit was undermining independent advice to ministers, and warned Theresa May not to appoint a Eurosceptic “patsy” to the role.
Ministers have come under pressure from to make a statement to the Commons when parliament returns on Monday. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said Sir Ivan’s resignation raised “serious concerns”.
The chairman of the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, Sir Bill Cash, wrote to Sir Ivan last night urging him to accept an invitation to appear before MPs despite his departure.
In his email to staff, leaked to the media, the ambassador said: “I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.
“I hope that you will support each other in those difficult moments where you have to deliver messages that are disagreeable to those who need to hear them.”
Sir Ivan said the country’s representatives in Brussels “do not yet know what the government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK’s relationship with the EU after exit”.
Warning that the UK could be outgunned in Brexit talks with EU institutions, he claimed “serious multilateral negotiating experience is in short supply in Whitehall, and that is not the case in the Commission or in the Council.”
Suggesting that warnings over the complexity of negotiations were not welcomed in Downing Street, Sir Ivan told civil servants in Brussels that “senior ministers, who will decide on our positions, issue by issue, also need from you detailed, unvarnished - even where this is uncomfortable”.
And in a veiled critique of pro-Brexit figures who have emphasized the opportunities of leaving the EU, he warned that “free trade does not just happen” without detailed negotiation.
Former Tory minister Iain Duncan Smith called the letter “a little bit of sour grapes”. The European Commission said it regretted the loss of a “very knowledgeable” envoy.