POLITICS

Conservatives Clash Over 'Nonsense' Attacks On Outgoing EU Ambassador

04/01/2017 11:35
Hasan Jamali/AP
Former Conservative Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt

The “nonsense” attacks on Britain’s outgoing ambassador to the EU have been condemned by a senior Tory as Conservatives clashed over Brexit negotiations.

Yesterday Sir Ivan Rogers quit his post as Britain’s top diplomat in Brussels with an attack on the “ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” of politicians - just weeks before Brexit negotiations are set to begin.

Alistair Burt, a former Foreign Office minister and current member of the Commons Brexit committee, today warned the country would suffer if diplomats were ignored.

“A very senior UK patriot has chosen to leave his post, rather than continue down a path of which he fears for our country,” Burt wrote on Conservative Home.

“If such warnings from a public servant who has devoted his working life to his country are dismissed simply as coming from a ‘Europhile, who deserves clearing out with the others’ or similar nonsense, then we will all be the losers.”

However Brexit campaigners welcomed his departure and accused him of having been too pro-EU. 

Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Archive

Former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith today accused Sir Ivan of being disloyal to the government.

“It gets to a point when a civil servant starts to go public on stuff that you, as ministers, can no longer trust that individual. You must have absolute trust and cooperation and you cannot have this stuff coming out publicly,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“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 in quite the way they would have done with others. There are plenty of other civil servants who didn’t behave like this.”

Sir Ivan had previously sparked controversy after he warned Theresa May that leaving the EU could take as long as ten years to negotiate - to the irritation of Brexit campaigners who have claimed a deal with Brussels can be done much faster.

Duncan Smith suggested Sir Ivan had deliberately leaked both his resignation letter and his Brexit timetable warning. 

In a lengthy farewell email to his staff, which has been posted on The Times website, Sir Ivan revealed that civil servants still do not know the government’s Brexit priorities and that “serious multilateral negotiating experience is in short supply in Whitehall” - unlike in Brussels.

And he criticised politicians and urged his civil servants to continue to challenge ministers and “speak the truth to those in power”.

The Daily Telegraph reported this morning that May and her senior team had “lost confidence” in Sir Ivan over his “pessimistic” view of Brexit. According to the newspaper, Downing Street wants to replace him with a diplomat who is more pro-Brexit.

However this morning Sir Simon Fraser, the former head of the Foreign Office’s diplomatic service, said losing Sir Ivan, one of the UK’s “greatest experts” on the EU, was a blow.

“Anyone who knows Ivan, has worked with him, will know absolutely that he was not someone who was ready to take no for answer. He was a very persistent negotiator, he showed lots of determination and he worked incredibly hard to achieve the Government’s objectives,” he told the BBC.

Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff who served as the top British negotiator on Northern Ireland, warned May it was “quite a big problem” that someone like Sir Ivan had quit.

“If they want to have someone who’s a patsy, who agrees with them then what is the point of having an independent civil service, which is one of the key pillars of our unwritten constitution,” he told Today.

“The point is to have someone who will tell you frankly what the problems are, who will point out to you the elephant traps, who will say these are the things that could go wrong, then you make your decision as a politician, and the civil servant will then implement it.”

Powell said the British government system “will collapse” if politicians started appointing civil servants based on their political beliefs.

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