Iain Duncan Smith has accused the United Kingdom’s outgoing ambassador to the European Union of being disloyal to the British government and thinking he is “God Almighty”.
On Tuesday Sir Ivan Rogers unexpectedly quit his key post in Brussels just weeks before the Brexit negotiations are set to begin with an attack on the “ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” of politicians.
The diplomat 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.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Duncan Smith suggested Sir Ivan had deliberately leaked both his resignation letter and his Brexit timetable warning.
“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,” the former Tory cabinet minister and Brexit campaigner said.
“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.”
And speaking later to Sky News, Duncan Smith said Sir Ivan sounded “a little bit like a man who’s got a little bit too close to his own self and thinks that he’s more important than perhaps he really is”.
“He may have his own opinions and advice. But he’s not God Almighty.”
However the prime minister has been warned not to appoint a “patsy” diplomat that will only tell her what she wants to hear.
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.
In Brussels, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofsadt said Sir Ivan was someone who “knew what he was talking about”.