I’m not sure that the now former UK Ambassador to the EU is as entirely blameless as some have painted him: the route by which his advice to the Government about the length of time it would take to negotiate Brexit (as well as his subsequent resignation e-mail) reached the media has yet to be fully explained. It’s entirely proper for diplomats to provide their best and most honest advice to governments; it’s rather less normal to make that advice public.
But there is another norm here as well - it has long been accepted (perhaps it’s one of those strange ‘British values’ that they keep telling us about) that senior civil servants are appointed for their ability to represent the government of the day impartially, and not on the basis of their political views. I’ve noted before that I can see an argument for taking a different approach to the appointment of ambassadors, where an ability to represent accurately and sincerely the views of the government of the day is an important attribute. If the Brexiteers were to start making that argument in a general sense, then I’d have some sympathy with their viewpoint.
They’re not doing that, though; they are selecting one particular job and demanding that the person appointed must share their simplistic world view. I suppose that dealing with matters on a case-by-case basis rather than developing a general policy is standard UK practice, but it doesn’t make for consistency or clarity. And given the nature of the demands being expressed by some, it doesn’t make for getting the best people into the jobs either.
John Redwood – ah, there’s a name that brings back memories – argued yesterday (just before the new appointee was named) that the new ambassador should be someone who thinks that Brexit is ‘straightforward’. Now, there do seem to be a lot of those to choose from, but given the complexities already identified, I wouldn’t want to put anyone with such a simplistic viewpoint anywhere near the negotiations, purely on the pragmatic basis that they’re unlikely to understand most of what’s being discussed.The Brexiteers’ approach to negotiation seems to be falling increasingly into the traditional British way of dealing with foreigners – speak to them slowly and loudly until they do what we want. The strange thing, to me, is that they seriously seem to believe that it will work.