Britain’s ambassador to the EU has resigned, just months before crucial Brexit talks are set to begin.
The government said Sir Ivan Rogers was leaving to allow those negotiations to start smoothly, pointing out that he had been to set to go in October.
Rogers has a wealth of EU experience and contacts and the top civil servant’s departure is being seen as a huge loss by observers in Brussels.
“Now that he’s gone, the question is who can replace him, who is knowledgeable enough in London or in the European capitals to replace him, and take the job, and lead the negotiations which are going to start very very soon,” said Vivien Pertusot of the French Institute of International Relations.
Last month, it was reported that Sir Ivan had warned a UK-EU trade deal could take a decade to agree, angering Eurosceptic ministers.
He said that he was simply stating the view of the 27 other EU governments.
But pro-Brexit politicians criticised what they saw as the ambassador’s ‘pessimism’.
Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader, welcomed his resignation, writing on Twitter that the UK foreign office needs “a complete clearout.”
The Liberal Democrats Brexit spokesman, Nick Clegg, said: “If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in government, it counts as a spectacular own goal.”