The new EU ambassador faces the most difficult assignment of his careerby Nicholas Wright / January 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
Before the start of 2017, few outside the UK’s diplomatic community would have heard of Tim Barrow. His appointment as Britain’s Permanent Representative (ambassador) to the European Union, following the public and acrimonious departure of Ivan Rogers, was meant to steady the ship. It was also a clear signal from No 10 that whatever the demands of more excitable Brexiteers, the negotiations will be conducted by experienced diplomats.
In this sense, Barrow is a safe pair of hands. He is well-versed in the complexities of EU negotiation and experienced at operating in tough diplomatic environments. He also has the advantage of enjoying the confidence of the senior politicians who have pledged to make Brexit a reality, something which—by the end—Rogers clearly did not, whatever the validity of his warnings about “muddled thinking.”
But who is the man who will lead the diplomatic charge once Article 50 is triggered? Barrow has served in the UK Permanent Representation to the EU (UKREP) both as First Secretary and Representative to the Political and Security Committee and at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in several Brussels-facing roles. In addition, from 2006-8 he was Britain’s ambassador to the Ukraine, and from 2011-5, ambassador to Russia. Here he worked with some success to maintain Anglo-Russian relations during a difficult period: a British colleague described him as having “a reputation for being bulletproof out there”—no mean feat in a challenging and febrile environment for western diplomats.
Prior to his latest appointment, Barrow was political director at the FCO, its second most senior official and a key advisor to the Foreign Secretary. Appointed to that role by Philip Hammond, he is reportedly highly regarded both by the now Chancellor, and his current boss Boris Johnson, who described him as “just the man to get the best deal for the UK.” He also enjoys the confidence of the Brexit Secretary David Davis and perhaps most significantly, of Prime Minister Theresa May. Thus, while the circumstances of his appointment may seem inauspicious, the essential elements are in place: extensive experience as both diplomat and policy maker, and a depth of domestic political support. These will be essential for his new role, and will give his pronouncements considerable weight when he faces his…