Alistair Burt is a member of the Exiting the EU Select Committee, a former Foreign Office Minister, and MP for North East Bedfordshire.
The resignation of Ivan Rogers as our Ambassador to the EU right at the beginning of this new year is a sharp indicator that, like Sherlock the other night, this is no longer a game. Leaving the EU is grown-up stuff, with consequences, in which outcomes will not be decided by whether the domestic voice of Leave or Remain is the loudest, but by the hard-headed negotiatiors of the countries and institutions we have chosen to quit. His resignation is a call to all to understand this. It is really not all about us.
From Rogers’s extraordinary resignation letter, there is of course something for both sides of the argument to champion. The practicality of him leaving his post before the UK’s position is formed, and before negotiations officially begin, has some sense to it. It gives time for a new Ambassador to be in place before Article 50 is triggered – leaving after that would have caused more disruption. It also allows the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU to choose another representative, free from the background attached to Rogers – one which would have been regularly and aggressively brought up every time a partisan newspaper or MP wanted to highlight a bit of the negotiations not going the way they demand. (See Leave EU’s missives for further details.). To this extent, the resignation gives the Government an opportunity to make something positive out of the situation.
By contrast, the manner of departure and the clarity of Rogers’s concerns over speaking the ‘unvarnished truth’, challenging ‘ill-founded arguments’ ,and ensuring that there are in place those harnessing the ‘best experience’ shouts a very public warning about what is currently occurring on our nation’s behalf as we enter the most important negotiations of our peacetime life. 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. The country will be watching official and background comments very carefully.
A very senior UK patriot has chosen to leave his post, rather than continue down a path of which he fears for our country. This requires a Government statement and explanation next week – and should induce further urgency into our preparations, and the base for our negotiations. MPs will be right to urge that we appoint quickly an Ambassador with the ability to understand fully what it is that the Government is looking for, and with the capacity to influence and shape such a position, the drive to deliver it, and the contacts and skills to make it a success – but also with the certainty of being listened to, however uncomfortable that may be.
Sir Ivan will have done that individual a favour. The Government cannot afford for the next Ambassador to the EU to walk.