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Departing UK envoy attacks May's Brexit plan

Published:Thursday | January 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM
UK prime Minister Theresa May.

Departing UK envoy attacks May's Brexit plan

Economy ends on high note

The United Kingdom's outgoing ambassador to the European Union (EU) has strongly criticised the government's approach to Brexit negotiations in a blistering farewell email to his staff.

Ivan Rogers said Prime Minister Theresa May's government has been hindered by "ill-founded arguments" and "muddled thinking" in its approach to the upcoming talks to pull Britain out of the EU.

His harsh critiques, likely to embarrass the government in the run-up to complex negotiations with the other 27 members of the EU bloc, were made public when the email was published by British media on Wednesday.

Rogers' abrupt departure reveals the deep uncertainties within the government about how to best protect Britain's national interest as it leaves the EU.

May, on Wednesday evening, appointed Tim Barrow, a former UK ambassador to Russia, as Rogers' replacement.

EU Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said Rogers would be missed.

"We regret the loss of a very professional, very knowl-edgeable, while not always easy interlocutor and diplomat who always loyally defended the interests of his government," she said.

Top secret gov't priorities

In probably the most damning passage of his farewell email, Rogers said that senior civil servants don't know what the May government's priorities are in the talks, which will set the course for Britain's relations with Europe once it leaves the bloc.

"We do not yet know what the Government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK's relationship with the EU after exit," he wrote.

That implies he is unsure whether May seeks to keep Britain in the single market or the customs union, or to have the country sever those economic relationships.

Rogers also said that Britain, unlike its EU adversaries, does not have the "serious multilateral negotiating experience" needed for the task.

The email was sent Tuesday, when Rogers resigned months earlier than expected.

May took over after Prime Minister David Cameron resigned following his failure to convince Britons to remain in the EU in the June referendum. She says Britain will formally trigger Article 50 - the legal process to kick off the process of leaving the EU - by the end of March.

She has repeatedly refused to spell out the government's goals, saying that to do so would weaken its hand in negotiations.

Her government faces a lawsuit that would require it to obtain parliamentary approval before starting the process. The Supreme Court is expected to decide shortly whether to overturn a lower court's ruling that Parliament must approve before Article 50 is invoked.

Process might fail

Rogers had earlier warned it would take longer than expected to reach new trade deals with Europe and that the process might ultimately fail, because it would require parliamentary approval from each member state.

Meanwhile, a survey of Britain's services sector, which accounts for the bulk of the economy, shows it grew at a 17-month high at the end of 2016.

The purchasing managers' index, a gauge of business activity, rose for a third month to 56.2 points in December from 55.2 the month before.

The index, published Thursday by IHS Markit and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, is on a 100-point scale, with figures above 50 indicating growth.

The improvement was due to an increase in new work and comes despite uncertainty over Brexit.

The pound's slide has helped parts of the economy and pushed the stock market to a record high.

- AP