EghtesadOnline: Theresa May moved decisively to silence mounting criticism that she has no plan for Brexit on Wednesday, by naming career diplomat Tim Barrow as the U.K.’s next ambassador to the European Union barely 24 hours after his predecessor resigned.
The U.K. premier’s readiness to take such a crucial decision so quickly also suggests a weakness: the criticism of her approach to Brexit must have stung.
According to Bloomberg, one senior figure inside the U.K. government said that while Barrow was clearly a fine candidate, the speed with which May acted shows she desperately wanted to regain the initiative after Ivan Rogers surprised her by resigning on Tuesday. It also indicates her desire to counter claims she’s overseeing a vacuum on Brexit policy, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the subject is sensitive.
“Replacing Ivan Rogers speedily helps to avoid the impression that they’re at sixes and sevens,” John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, said in an interview. “It’s not a vacancy that you wish to have hanging around at a stage where you’re about to formulate your negotiating stance to leave the European Union.”
When Rogers quit on Tuesday, he did not go quietly. In a message to staff working with him at the U.K.’s permanent office in Brussels, he coolly laid out the shortcomings in May’s preparations for the complex Brexit talks she has pledged to begin by the end of March.
There is no clear structure for the U.K’s negotiating team and there is a dearth of expert negotiators, he said. Working relations between staff in London and Brussels need to be better, he added, urging officials to continue challenging “muddled thinking” from ministers. And nobody yet knows -- including him -- what May wants to achieve in the negotiations.
Campaigners hoping to keep the close ties to the EU single market were dismayed, with some attacking May’s team for mishandling Rogers. May’s political foes in the opposition Labour Party said they were amazed that even Rogers did not know her plan for Brexit.
Hard-line Brexit supporters welcomed Rogers’s departure but in choosing Barrow, May has held firm against the most passionate Euroskeptics -- said to have included Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson -- who wanted her to appoint a political supporter of their cause.
And in acting so quickly, she tried to signal to her doubters that she is firmly in control. May will use a major speech later this month to allay criticism she doesn’t have a clear vision for Brexit and underline that she unafraid to pull the U.K. out of the single market unless Britain gets full control over its borders, the Telegraph reported.
‘Just The Man’
Within minutes of the announcement being made, leading Brexit supporters including David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Steve Baker, who led the Conservative Party’s leave campaign, all expressed their support for Barrow. Johnson said “he is just the man to get the best deal for the U.K.”
May herself remained silent, except for a statement from her spokesman endorsing Barrow’s credentials as “a seasoned and tough negotiator, with extensive experience of securing U.K. objectives in Brussels.”
Those who have worked with him say Barrow will be less emotional than Rogers, who is said to have repeatedly threatened to resign over recent years.
The new envoy, who joined the Foreign Office in 1986 and was ambassador to Russia until last year, will be a key figure in negotiations. While in Moscow, he was known for his independent views, in spite of the worst government-to-government ties since the Cold War, provoked by the assassination in London of dissident Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
Barrow will need all his experience of dealing with a hostile Russia when Brexit talks begin later this year, as he tries to hash out the U.K.’s divorce from its 27 partners in the bloc.