British EU Envoy Departs Ahead of Brexit Negotiations

January 3, 2017 Updated: January 3, 2017

BRUSSELS—Underscoring the hectic preparations for Britain’s divorce proceedings from the European Union, London’s envoy to the EU has unexpectedly resigned only months before the negotiations are due to start and on the heels of a nasty controversy.

Ivan Rogers decided to leave now so that a successor could be in place ahead of the official triggering of the exit talks set for the end of March, the British government said. Rogers was named to the Brussels post of permanent representative in 2013 and was due to stay until November and help oversee the critical first half year of negotiations.

Rogers was awarded a knighthood in 2016 for services including to European policy and his expertise on complicated issues from trade to fisheries to foreign policy was considered a major asset.

British preparations for its divorce from the bloc after the June referendum have been anything but smooth and the sudden departure of the top diplomat is set to add to that.

Rogers came under pressure last month following the leak of his suggestion to the prime minister that it could take up to a decade to have a trade deal with the EU in the wake of Brexit. Politicians backing an exit called him overly negative.

The UK Independence Party immediately latched on to the news, with MEP Gerard Batten calling Rogers a “Europhile” and saying Prime Minister Theresa May should “have removed him long before.”

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, said Rogers was one of the very few people at the top of the government “who understand EU.” His departure, Grant said, “makes a good deal on Brexit less likely.”

May has repeatedly said that she will officially trigger the divorce negotiations before the end of March.