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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The day that Brexit went to hell in a handcart

If we weren't screwed before, then we really are now. With just three months to go before the UK Government presses the button on Article 50 and engages in complex and crucial negotiations on which the future prosperity of this country depends, two of our key negotiators have left the stage.

As the Guardian reports, the sudden resignation on Tuesday of Britain’s ambassador to the European Union has prompted angry accusations from Remain supporters that officials who express cautions over the Brexit process risk being pressured out of their job. His second in command has also left, to go and work for the Welsh Government.

Lord MacPherson, who was permanent secretary from 2005 at the Treasury until last year, has said that Sir Ivan Rogers’ resignation, so close to the start of Brexit negotiations at the end of March, amounted to a “wilful and total destruction of EU expertise”

He said that Rogers’ decision was a huge loss and that he was the latest in a string of EU experts to be frozen out, describing the decision as “amateurish”:

MacPherson also cited Rogers’ predecessor, Jon Cunliffe, and Tom Scholar, previously the prime minister’s adviser on European issues who is now permanent secretary at the Treasury. His warning appears to reflect a Treasury concern that Theresa May is under pressure by sceptics to abandon hopes of trying to negotiate access to the profitable EU single market, even on a temporary basis.

Nick Clegg, who worked with Rogers in Brussels, agreed. He said it appeared to be the latest in a series of attacks against public officials who had expressed caution about Brexit:

“First it was the judges, condemned as enemies of the people for just doing their jobs,” the former deputy prime minister told the Guardian.

“It’s been the CBI and any business that didn’t sign up to the Brexit zeal, and now it’s senior officials being kneecapped in the Brexit press, after Sir Ivan Rogers just gave candid advice about the length of time negotiations might take.

“They are in the firing line if they do not endorse a zealous world view. This is a very worrying trend, and very new in British politics.”

Insisting civil service neutrality is a precious British asset, Clegg said the government should value candid advice:. “It will come back to haunt the Brexit headbangers, because you can insist as much and hysterically as you like that the world is flat, but there are only so many people you can condemn for just pointing out the truth, that the world is round and that Brexit is complicated, might take time and might not be fully to Britain’s advantage.”

The question is how is Theresa May going to deliver on her promise to take Remainers with her when hard liners are doing all they can to sabotage the process and when she cannot call on the experts she needs to get the best possible outcome for the UK?

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