Ivan Rogers was fearless in telling Theresa May and her predecessor David Cameron how he saw things. Our ambassador to the EU didn’t sugar the pill when he had uncomfortable messages to deliver about what could and couldn’t be achieved in negotiations with our European partners.

If the prime minister replaces Rogers – who has just resigned – with a yes-person, the risk of a messed-up Brexit will rise. The government’s tendency to live in denial about the strength of its negotiating hand will be increased and the chance of making serious errors in the coming talks will go up.

It is still unclear why Rogers quit. The FT says his letter informing staff about his departure gave no reason. One Brussels source told InFacts that he was “tired of having sensible, professional advice ignored or distorted and politicised”, so he decided it was time for someone new to tackle the Brexit negotiations.

What is clear is that Rogers was an experienced diplomat with a great network of contacts across the EU. There’s nobody else in the civil service with anything like his expertise – with the possible exception of Tom Scholar, head of the Treasury. It will be next to impossible to find somebody with the same ability to understand the lay of the land in the EU and figure out which moves in the multi-dimensional game of chess are likely to strengthen our position and which will lead to us being check-mated.

But an even bigger danger is that May will now succumb to pressure from the hard Brexiters to appoint somebody who will tell her what they want to hear. One of Rogers’ greatest virtues was his gutsiness in delivering unvarnished messages.

A campaign to push May to appoint a true believer in Brexit to replace Rogers has already started. The Mail Online’s headline reads: ‘Now let’s appoint an EU ambassador who believes in Brexit!’ Britain’s ‘pessimistic’ man in Brussels QUITS after facing major backlash over his ‘gloomy’ warnings about EU divorce.

Even if the prime minister doesn’t appoint a hard Brexiter to the role, it would be surprising if the new ambassador has the courage to be objective in his or her advice. He or she will have seen how Rogers was lambasted in the pro-Brexit media after it emerged last month that he had warned it could take a decade to cut a new trade deal with the EU. Taking on the job will be a poisoned chalice.

The safe option for the new envoy will be to pretend that the Brexit process will be easy, that it will be possible to have our cake and eat it, and so forth. The risk of May then misreading the situation, demanding the impossible and provoking an almighty bust-up with our European partners will then rise.

Not a good way to start the year.

A sentence in the third paragraph giving one source’s explanation for Rogers’ resignation was added shortly after publication.

by Hugo Dixon | 03.01.2017

From time to time we'll share exclusive interview clips (including never-seen-before footage), the most incisive blog posts and the most interesting dispatches from our event organisers as they take the europe debate to the furthest, biggest, smallest, weirdest, most unusual places around europe and beyond.

Sign up to the Newsletter

Share this

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
Stay in touch Get our Newsletter


Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3GA


The Wake up Foundation is a registered charity no. 1152894

Donate now

Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email.

Created with NationBuilder

X Close

Join Wake Up Europe!

Wake Up Europe is a campaign brought to you by the Wake Up Foundation. It was sparked by the themes explored in The Great European Disaster Movie by Annalisa Piras and Bill Emmott.

We believe in the values that inspired the European project but that this project isn't working. Europe is sleep-walking towards disaster. We must wake up Europe so that we can save Europe from itself.

This job is too important to be left to the elites, the media, the political parties alone: ordinary people must be encouraged to discuss what Europe they want to see.

Or support us another way

Donate Host an event