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Gib’s Brexit position ‘well understood’ by UK, Garcia says

The shock resignation of Britain’s top EU diplomat will not impact negatively on Gibraltar’s efforts to ensure its position is properly reflected in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said yesterday.

Sir Ivan Rogers had worked closely with the Gibraltar Government since his appointment as the UK Permanent Representative in Brussels in 2013, and was described this week as having “a clear and solid grasp of Gibraltar-related issues”.

His resignation coincides with the departure of Sir Ivan’s deputy, Shan Morgan, who has also worked with the Gibraltar Government on numerous important issues affecting the Rock in recent years.

But while the departure of the two top officials was “unfortunate”, Dr Garcia expressed confidence that their replacements would have a good grasp of the issues that concern Gibraltar as the UK prepares to leave the EU.

“I think our points are well understood by the British Government,” Dr Garcia said, adding that change was not unusual in senior UK government posts that dealt, directly or tangentially, with Gibraltar-related issues.

BLISTERING EMAIL

Dr Garcia was speaking against the background of a furious controversy in the UK following news of the resignation earlier this week.

Sir Ivan resigned his post with a blistering attack on the British Government that some suggested gave voice to wider frustration among officials over Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit strategy.

He quit unexpectedly just months after warning that a post-Brexit trade deal could take a decade to finalise, and even then may fail to get ratified by member states.

His early departure from the top EU post means that London will now launch its negotiations to leave the EU without the guidance of one of its foremost experts on Europe.

And his letter to staff, which was leaked to the media and made public yesterday, included unmistakable criticism of the British Government's approach.

In a lengthy farewell email to his staff - posted on The Times website yesterday - Sir Ivan revealed that civil servants still do not know the British Government’s Brexit priorities and that “serious multilateral negotiating experience is in short supply in Whitehall” – unlike in Brussels.

And he criticised politicians and urged his civil servants to continue to challenge ministers and “speak the truth to those in power”.

Sir Ivan wrote: “I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.”

“I hope that you will support each other in those difficult moments where you have to deliver messages that are disagreeable to those who need to hear them.”

“I hope that you will continue to be interested in the views of others, even where you disagree with them, and in understanding why others act and think in the way that they do.”

“I hope that you will always provide the best advice and counsel you can to the politicians that our people have elected, and be proud of the essential role we play in the service of a great democracy.”

In the email, sent just before 1pm on Tuesday, Sir Ivan said he decided to step down early so his replacement can be in place when Article 50 is triggered in March and formal negotiations commence.

GIBRALTAR MEPS

Sir Ivan’s resignation drew different reactions from two of Gibraltar’s MEPs.

Ashley Fox, leader of Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament and Tory MEP for Gibraltar and the South West of the UK, welcomed Sir Ivan's decision to walk away from his role early.

That would enable a successor to be appointed before formal divorce proceedings with Brussels are triggered, he said.

"I have worked with Sir Ivan Rogers for several years and know him to be a professional and dedicated public servant," Mr Fox added.

"His term of office was due to come to an end in November and I accept his view that it is sensible to have a successor in place before Article 50 is triggered."

But Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for Gibralar and the South West, took a contrasting view.

The Green Party's spokeswoman on EU relations suggested pro-Leave supporters were to blame for Sir Ivan's departure.

"It is clear Brexiteers are hell-bent on pushing out everybody who isn't hostile to the EU,” she said.

"This witch-hunt against anybody who is pro EU, which was actually the job of all civil servants until June last year, leaves us with only ignorance and hostility.”

“Successful negotiation requires understanding and respect."

TIMETABLE

Yesterday Labour called on the British Government to set out a clear timetable for the publication of its Brexit plans.

The party's Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer demanded that Secretary of State David Davis come to the House of Commons on Monday to answer MPs' questions about Sir Ivan’s decision to quit his post just weeks before the expected start of withdrawal negotiations.

Sir Keir said the UK Permanent Representative's departure was likely to be a "significant loss" for Britain and raised "a number of serious questions" about the Government's preparations for the talks.

In a letter to Mr Davis, the shadow Brexit secretary said it was "frankly astonishing" that Sir Ivan had said in his resignation email that he did not yet know the Government's objectives for Brexit and "deeply concerning" that the structure and responsibilities of the negotiating team had not yet been resolved.

"Time is running out," Sir Keir warned. "It is now vital that the Government demonstrates not only that it has a plan but also that it has a clear timetable for publication... The best way to clarify these points and wider concerns many people have about this matter would be to make a statement to the House of Commons when Parliament returns on Monday."

‘SOUR GRAPES’

Labour's demand came amid a war of words over Sir Ivan's resignation.

Prominent Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Peter Lilley accused Sir Ivan of "sour grapes", while Tory MP Dominic Raab said that the senior diplomat's "heart hasn't really been in Brexit" and his resignation would be "quietly, cautiously and respectfully welcomed at the top of Government".

Ex-cabinet minister Mr Duncan Smith suggested that Sir Ivan had lost ministers' confidence because it appeared he had a hand in the leaking of an earlier warning that a post-Brexit trade deal could take a decade to finalise.

"The truth is, I think there's a little bit of sour grapes going on here because he's not really included much in the discussion about how they are going to go about this negotiation, partly because ... I think ministers don't fully trust him," the former Conservative leader told Sky News.

But the Foreign Office's former top civil servant Lord Ricketts attacked the "denigration" of the long-serving mandarin and dismissed suggestions that he was responsible for leaks as "a smear".

"I don't think it's sour grapes, I think it's a sense that there is a huge task out here. I am really concerned about this undertone of denigration of Ivan as a person, and this feeling that it has got to be 'one of us' next time. That's a complete misunderstanding of what civil servants are for," Lord Ricketts told BBC Radio 4's World at One.