Ivan Rogers has quit as the UK's ambassador to the EU – at a time when we need him most

In sport, a player or coach with extensive prior knowledge of the opposition tends to be considered a tactical asset, not someone to be chucked out of the dressing room just before the tactics meeting

Tom Peck
Tuesday 03 January 2017 18:12
Comments
Sir Ivan Rogers (right), the UK's top ambassador to EU has resigned before start of Brexit negotiations
Sir Ivan Rogers (right), the UK's top ambassador to EU has resigned before start of Brexit negotiations

If 2016 really was the Year in Which the World Had Enough of Experts, and we must conclude it was, given that the age’s very own Leonardo da Vinci, former Education and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, is now reduced to little more than late night tweet rows with statisticians and TV food critics, the early signs indicate that 2017 will be the Year In Which the Experts Have Had Enough.

Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s Permanent Representative to the EU, has resigned. Walked or pushed? Well we don’t know yet. But given that two weeks ago Sir Ivan publicly warned that an EU trade deal could take ten years, and that shortly before that it was reported that Brexit Secretary David Davis’s advisors only allow people to meet him if they have good news about Brexit, there are clear battle lines there.

What we do know is that, as Britain prepares for its great showdown with the EU’s negotiators, it has lost from its arsenal its greatest single reservoir of knowledge of the opposition. The swamp of expertise is being drained. Nicholas Macpherson, the former head civil servant at the Treasury, has taken the trouble of acquiring himself a rudimentary Twitter account (he may be the most over-informed Egg on the entire service), chiefly to criticise the government and its “wilful and total destruction of EU expertise.”

2016: The year of Brexit

He also highlights Jon Cunliffe, Michael Ellam and Tom Scholar, three civil service EU experts who have been moved off into various other fields.

It’s hard to know where to start in analogy terms. In sport, a player or coach with extensive prior knowledge of the opposition tends to be considered a tactical asset, not someone to be chucked out of the dressing room just before the tactics meeting.

Even Macbeth, once he’s calmed down, accepts that the messenger who spots Birnam Wood on its way to Dunsinane might, begrudgingly, be on to something (spoiler alert: the messenger lives. Macbeth falls back on the very harshest of WTO tariffs.)

Still, who needs knowledge? Nigel Farage has emerged to say the rest of the Foreign Office needs a clear out. “The World Has Changed,” and he’s right. If you happen to have the misfortune of knowing anything about what you’re talking about, there’s no doubt you’ve suddenly landed in the wrong era.

In the last six months, the parallels with the decline of ancient Rome have been constantly drawn. That, yes, civilisations can end. Progress can be reversed. Mankind can take giant leaps in the wrong direction. If it has happened before, it can happen again. Whether it is happening now, we cannot know for certain, but there can hardly be more certain evidence than the defenestration, self-administered or otherwise, of knowledge and understanding. Expertise, acquired and honed over decades, and at great public expense too, then, at the point at which it is needed most, dispensed with.

As Arthur Miller almost warned, when the experts start not smiling back, well that’s an earthquake. You can already feel the tremors. Don’t expect the foundations to hold.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in