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5 January 2017

What does new EU ambassador Tim Barrow mean for the Brexit negotiations?

Theresa May has replaced Sir Ivan Rogers. 

By Julia Rampen

After the UK’s ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, quit, pro-Remain politicians decried the pressures on civil servants, while Leave campaigners celebrated his demise. 

In his resignation letter to staff, Rogers urged his staff to “challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” and be prepared to tell the government “messages that are disagreeable”. 

Leave campaigners like Nigel Farage, on the other hand, wanted Theresa May to pick someone more cheery as his successor. 

In the end, the Prime Minister acted quickly. She has picked Sir Tim Barrow, a career diplomat. But what will he bring to the table?

Experience: 9/10

Rogers was an old hand in Brussels, and his departure left the UK team considerably poorer in terms of experience. Barrow has spent almost his entire career in international diplomacy, including a previous stint at the EU embassy. However, Barrow has spent most of the previous decade facing the Kremlin, rather than the back rooms of Brussels. In that time, the EU has changed considerably, so Rogers may still be missed.

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Ian Murray, a Labour MP who sits on the Foreign Affairs select committee, told The Staggers Barrow was “very experienced, very measured and well respected”. 

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Impartiality: 8/10

Barrow is a career civil servant, and a far cry from the Nigel Farages offering themselves up as ambassadors. But at the same time, he is not seen as a Europhile (neither was Rogers, until he delivered some bad news on trade deals). The Foreign secretary Boris Johnson cheered his appointment, calling Barrow “a brilliant and highly respected diplomat who will get the best deal for the UK”. But Farage complained about the appointment of another “knighted career diplomat”. This suggests it will not take much for conviction Brexiteers to complain about an establishment stitch-up. 

Chances of success: 3/10

The Brexiteers that matter may approve of Barrow, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find himself in the same position as his predecessor – having to deliver bad news. At the end of the day, whoever the ambassador is, the UK will have to negotiate with 27 countries, some of which want to send a message to their own Eurosceptic movement. That’s not to mention the MEPs that actually get to vote on the deal, and the need to navigate technicalities like mixity.