Thanks to the BBC’s efforts yesterday, Theresa May must have thought she was going to get away with it. The UK’s ambassador to the EU resigned, but BBC News’ editors decided instead to run half-hourly features on the fact that yet another ‘Labour’ right-winger (or whinger) decided to talk down the party’s electoral prospects, as if that was actual news.
While they couldn’t completely ignore Sir Ivan Rogers’ resignation, it was basically tagged on like an afterthought and skipped over with next to no comment or analysis while another set of Tory-supporting journalists were wheeled out to suck their teeth and talk about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed weakness.
Mrs May probably couldn’t believe her luck, while some BBC drone must have thought the knighthood was in the bag.
All a bit prematurely, as it turned out. The leak today of Sir Ivan’s resignation email forced even the co-opted BBC News to join the rest of the news media in giving appropriate airtime to his decision to depart and the reasons he gave for his decision.
The email – in diplomatic terms, of course – blows clean out of the water the government’s lame pretence to be playing its cards close to its chest and revealed there are no cards because they have no plan.
Rogers told his team:
We do not yet know what the Government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK’s relationship with the EU after exit.
The UK’s most senior diplomat to the European Union – more than 6 months after the referendum result – just admitted that he has received no indication whatever from Mrs May’s government about what it wants to even aim for in Brexit negotiations, let alone how on earth to try to achieve it when it has, effectively, no bargaining chips worthy of the name.
He also admitted that there are scant prospects for that to improve, because – in almost as many words – they’re a bunch of amateurs who will be going in to bat against hardened, experienced EU professional negotiators:
Serious multilateral negotiating experience is in short supply in Whitehall, and that is not the case in the Commission or in the Council.
and displayed scant regard for the intellectual abilities of those government ministers he and his team have had – and will continue – to deal with:
I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking
Theresa May therefore faced a quandary today. Under such circumstances, the go-to option is to have the BBC inflate some diaphanous Corbyn or Labour story into its main ‘news’ item of the day, in the hope that this clumsy attempt at ‘sleight of hand’ will allow the real issue to go unnoticed.
But the BBC had already shot its load prematurely yesterday, when the resignation first came out – even they could hardly repeat the same load of tosh and, evidently, no new load of tosh was quite ready, as the leaked email clearly caught the powers that be so much on the hop that even the likes of John McTernan couldn’t be dredged up with some Thatcherite vomit to cloud the waters.
So Theresa May did what Prime Ministers should never – but often do – do. She shot the messenger.
Out was wheeled, with ludicrous inappropriateness, former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale to bleat to the media about the government’s ‘disappointment’ (I’ll say!) and to smear the ambassador’s professionalism and integrity instead, by stating his resignation was welcome so ‘someone who believes in Brexit’ can take his place.
Alongside the woeful Whittingdale were the likes of Iain Duncan Smith who, with no apparent trace of irony, blamed the ambassador’s ‘sour grapes’ for his email. They were, absolutely correctly, condemned by a former Foreign Office head for their ‘smear campaign’ and by the head of the civil servants’ FDA union, Dave Penman, for their abject failure to defend the independence of senior civil servants.
It was beyond the pale even for some Tory MPs, as this tweet from Conservative veteran Nicholas Soames shows:
IDS attack on Ivan Rogers unforgivable am ashamed a colleague could be so ignorant and rude about an Official of such distinction #buttonup
— Nicholas Soames (@NSoames) January 4, 2017
All this just made May, her Brexit team and whole government look found out, vengeful, deeply cowardly and completely inept.
No matter. The cat is very definitely out the bag – released by His (former) Excellency Sir Ivan Rogers:
When it comes to this government, Brexit doesn’t mean Brexit. Brexit means “we haven’t got a clue” – hard, soft, or red-white-and-blue.
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