Britain’s EU ambassador, described by officials here yesterday as ‘a skilled expert with a clear and solid grasp of Gibraltar-related issues’, has quit his post just months before tough Brexit negotiations are set to begin.
The surprise move by Sir Ivan Rogers comes after he provoked controversy with a private warning to the British Government that a post-Brexit trade deal could take a decade to finalise, and that even then it may fail to get ratified by member states.
Downing Street moved to play down the resignation, saying Sir Ivan was leaving his post “a few months early”, but opposition figures said the turn of events was “alarming”.
A British Government spokesman said: “Sir Ivan Rogers has resigned a few months early as UK Permanent Representative to the European Union.”
“Sir Ivan has taken this decision now to enable a successor to be appointed before the UK invokes Article 50 by the end of March. We are grateful for his work and commitment over the last three years.”
Sir Ivan, who had been expected to leave the post next autumn, told ministers in October that other EU members believe a trade deal with the UK may not be hammered out until the early to mid-2020s.
He also said European leaders believe the Brexit deal is likely to be a free trade arrangement rather than continued single market membership.
His resignation will be viewed with concern in Gibraltar because Sir Ivan had worked closely with the Gibraltar Government in the past and understood the unique challenges facing the Rock.
“The Chief Minister and I have had the opportunity to work with Sir Ivan Rogers ever since he was first appointed as UK Ambassador to the European Union in November 2013,” said Dr Joseph Garcia, the Deputy Chief Minister who is also responsible for EU Affairs.
“He came across as a competent and highly skilled expert in his field who had a clear and solid grasp of Gibraltar-related issues.”
The timing of Sir Ivan’s decision to quit could be critical because the British Government is due to trigger the Article 50 process for the UK’s divorce from the EU before the end of March.
That means Prime Minister Theresa May will likely need to find a replacement to take on the job before her government embarks on what many people believe will be the most complex set of negotiations faced by the UK for decades.