Sunday 23 July 2017

'Harder' Brexit deal feared after key UK envoy to Europe resigns

Britain's ambassador to the European Union Ivan Rogers, pictured here alongside David Cameron, has resigned. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Britain's ambassador to the European Union Ivan Rogers, pictured here alongside David Cameron, has resigned. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

UK Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit preparations were dealt another serious blow yesterday after the UK's ambassador to the EU abruptly quit.

With just under three months to Downing Street's self-imposed deadline to trigger formal exit negotiations, Ivan Rogers - regarded as one of Britain's leading EU experts - reportedly told his staff he would be stepping down, but did not give any reasons.

His departure was welcomed by the pro-exit camp, with Nigel Farage pushing for a "tough Brexiteer" to replace him. Such an appointment could be bad news for Ireland, given the need here for Britain to negotiate as soft an exit as possible. Mr Rogers had been appointed to Brussels under David Cameron in 2013, but stoked controversy with some in the anti-EU camp after he privately told ministers that a UK free trade deal post-Brexit could take a decade to thrash out.

Britain's foreign and Commonwealth office said Mr Rogers had taken the decision now - earlier than his planned exit date in November - to allow a successor to be appointed before Article 50 is triggered in March, as planned.

The chairman of the Leave.eu group, Arron Banks, branded Mr Rogers a pessimist and said it was time for someone who was "optimistic" about the future to take up the post.

"If Mrs May were serious about leaving the EU, she would have removed him long before," said Gerard Batten, the United Kingdom Independence Party's Brexit spokesman.

Charles Grant, head of the London-based Centre for European Reform, suggested that the departure would make the negotiations all the more difficult.

"Ivan Rogers's resignation makes a good deal on Brexit less likely," he said via Twitter.

Hilary Benn, chairman of parliament's Brexit committee, said a change in such a significant position was "not a good thing".

"This is a time for continuity and experience, because this going to be a very complex, a very challenging, a very difficult negotiation," Mr Benn said.

"It's an absolutely vital job - both conveying the British government's view to the other 27 members states, but also honestly reporting back what he was picking up about the attitude of the other 27 toward the forthcoming negotiations."

Meanwhile, IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan said yesterday that the agency had received a "significant volume of specific queries" from across the world in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

He said the queries were not exclusively from financial services, but also from technology and pharmaceutical companies.

Irish Independent

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