British PM moves quickly to name new EU envoy

Mr Barrow (left), a career diplomat, will replace Sir Ivan Rogers, who quit as Britain's ambassador to the EU on Tuesday.
Mr Barrow (above), a career diplomat, will replace Sir Ivan Rogers, who quit as Britain's ambassador to the EU on Tuesday.

Speedy decision on Tim Barrow shows May wants to regain initiative, says govt official

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has moved decisively to silence mounting criticism that she has no plan in place for Brexit, by naming Mr Tim Barrow as Britain's ambassador to the European Union (EU) barely 24 hours after his predecessor resigned.

Mr Barrow joined the Foreign Office in 1986 and was ambassador to Russia until last year.

The career diplomat, who served earlier as first secretary at the Bri- tish Embassy in Brussels, is not known to have taken a strong public position on Brexit.

A statement from Mrs May's spokesman endorsed Mr Barrow's credentials as "a seasoned and tough negotiator, with extensive experience of securing British objectives in Brussels".

But the British 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.

One senior figure inside the British government said that while Mr Barrow was clearly a fine candidate, the speed with which Mrs May acted shows she desperately wanted to regain the initiative after Sir Ivan Rogers surprised her by resigning on Tuesday. It also indicates her desire to counter claims that she is overseeing a vacuum on Brexit policy, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Prof John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, said: "Replacing Ivan Rogers speedily helps to avoid the impression that they are at sixes and sevens.

"It is not a vacancy that you wish to have hanging around at a stage where you are about to formulate your negotiating stance to leave the European Union."

When Sir Ivan quit on Tuesday, he did not go quietly. In a message to staff working with him at Britain's permanent office in Brussels, he coolly laid out the shortcomings in Mrs May's preparations for the complex Brexit talks she has pledged to begin by the end of March.

There is no clear structure for Britain'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 the "muddled thinking" from ministers.

Those who have worked with Mr Barrow say he will be less emotional than Sir Ivan, who is said to have repeatedly threatened to resign over recent years.

While in Moscow, Mr Barrow 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.

The new EU envoy will need all his experience of dealing with a hostile Russia when Brexit talks begin later this year.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'British PM moves quickly to name new EU envoy'. Print Edition | Subscribe