May ‘screwed’ Britain by triggering Article 50 too early – former diplomat
The ex-diplomat was giving evidence at the Commons Treasury Select Committee on Wednesday, when he said that May’s decision had allowed the EU to “dictate the rules of the game” in Brexit talks. She had squandered the leverage that the timing of triggering the article had provided, he added.
Rogers, who retired last January, said that he had advised the Government to initially establish the format and sequence of the negotiations before triggering the exit process by invoking Article 50.
“My advice as a European negotiator was that that was a moment of key leverage and, if you wanted to avoid being screwed on the negotiations in terms of the sequencing, you had to negotiate with the key European leaders and the key people at the top of the institutions and say: ‘I will invoke Article 50 but only under circumstances where I know exactly how it is going to operate,’” he said.
May triggered Article 50 last March, on a set date that she had announced in October 2016 – four months after the Brexit referendum. Rogers quit the Brexit negotiations team in January, calling on his colleagues to “challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking.”
The former diplomat has not been surprised by the lack of progress in the talks, he told the Committee. The EU has refused to discuss future trade deals until the terms of the UK’s exit – including a financial settlement – are finalised.
“If you were in their shoes, that is exactly what you would do. You would think ‘Let’s just maximise the pressure on the British side to move on money and squeeze as hard as possible,’ because the debate they really want to have is about the future partnership,” said Rogers.
He predicted that the two parties would resort to “name-calling across the Channel” if no trade deal is established by December. “A ‘no deal’ – that is a walkout or a breakdown anywhere between December [and] March – is unlikely to be anything other than bloody, a breakdown of trust – very difficult,” he said, adding: “There will be a big fist fight and the UK will make our own contingency plans.”