A former Cabinet minister has attacked former EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers for his “emotionally needy” resignation from his Brussels post.
Theresa Villiers, who served as Northern Ireland Secretary and was a leading member of the Vote Leave campaign, took a swipe at the top diplomat for the manner of his shock departure this week.
Sir Ivan, who was swiftly replaced by Sir Tim Barrow on Wednesday, took Downing Street by surprise by sending his resignation email to staff without informing the Prime Minister beforehand.
Former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith has already criticised the Brussels-based ambassador for thinking he was “God almighty”, but today fellow Eurosceptic Villiers went further.
“I think, you know, Sir Ivan was due to move on soon anyway, you know, his successor’s now in place, his successor’s been universally welcomed as an extremely able negotiator,” she told Sky News.
“I thought Sir Ivan’s resignation email was, I don’t know, rambling, a bit emotionally needy, not something you would expect from a civil servant of that calibre.”
But her attack came as former senior mandarins lined up to defend Sir Ivan and claimed that Theresa May had undermined her officials by refusing to share her plans for Brexit.
Former Foreign Office diplomat Sir Robert Cooper told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think at the moment there is a policy vacuum. It’s not surprising.
“This is a gigantic enterprise that’s been taken on and needs a lot of thought. I think at the moment probably the atmosphere is difficult because people don’t know where they are going. You need to have a sense of direction.”
And in a letter to The Times, former civil service chief Lord Kerslake said: “Less than three months away from the government’s self-imposed deadline for triggering Article 50, we still do not have a delivery plan, negotiating strategy or clear understanding of the resources required to achieve a successful Brexit.
“To say this is neither to be “pessimistic” or “political”, nor in denial of the referendum result, but simply make an honest statement about the reality of our situation.
“Too much of the debate about Brexit starts from a naive view of how we would like to world — and Europe in particular — to be rather than how it actually is. Nowhere is this more evident than in our insistence that despite all the evidence to the contrary, we can have free trade in goods and services with Europe but not free movement of labour.”
Former British ambassador Tom Fletcher defending No.10, however, stressing that it was right to guard its negotiation position before March 31, when the formal process for quitting the EU is set to start.
The war of words came amid signs that friends of Sir Ivan had come out fighting after days of abuse from Eurosceptics.
The Times reported on Thursday that Sir Ivan was left in ‘despair’ after the alleged failure by Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to understand briefings in the weeks after their appointment this summer.
Sources said told the paper he was frustrated by his attempts to induct the two Brexit cabinet ministers in the details of the single market and customs union.
He expressed frustration that Fox, Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, did not rate the chances or consequences of a chaotic Brexit seriously enough.
The Financial Times reported that Sir Ivan had concluded that the PM was set on a ‘hard Brexit’ - withdrawing from the EU single market to gain full control of UK borders - and that a ‘transitional plan’ was needed to ease the process.
But he had also concluded that such a transitional plan “would also, in his view, quite well be impossible to agree”.