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Former diplomats call for delay in Brexit process

FILE PHOTO: Anti-Brexit demonstrators protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

By Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Editor

A group of retired diplomats have issued a plea to Theresa May to delay Brexit to allow more time to establish a clearer plan or allow for a second referendum.

In a statement to The Times, more than 40 former ambassadors and Foreign Office mandarins warned that if the Prime Minister secured agreement on her plan, it would not mark the end of uncertainty but the start of years of negotiations.

They reported "exasperation and incomprehension" among contacts overseas at the UK's failure to resolve its differences over its future relationship with the EU.

The statement, organised by supporters of a second referendum, was signed by former ambassadors to the US, France and Russia, as well as one-time head of the Foreign Office Lord Kerr, one of the authors of the Article 50 clause which sets out the process for quitting the EU.

They said: "If the Prime Minister's deal is passed in Parliament, it will not be the end of Brexit but will in fact mark the start of year upon year of negotiation and renegotiation.

"Our advice to Theresa May today is clear: we should not leave the EU when we have no clarity about our final destination. We strongly advocate a change of direction before it is too late."

Lord Ricketts, a former ambassador to France and national security adviser, said: "All of us have our networks abroad. We can all feel the rising exasperation and incomprehension at why Britain can't resolve its internal differences.

"This is a wake-up call. If we can't get a clear agreement, let's delay. Let's not go over the cliff without pausing and thinking."

Former ambassador to Washington Sir Nigel Sheinwald said: "Whatever view you take of Brexit, the fact is we need a pause, because we can't get a good deal even by the Government's standards and an orderly Brexit in the six weeks that are left."

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