Brexit: “Important decisions need to be taken”

It is “now clear the UK will leave the EU on 31 January” and the two sides “need to move quickly to negotiate the future relationship,” the UK ambassador to Luxembourg has said.

“Important decisions need to be taken” by the British government on where the UK will place itself on the “spectrum of alignment and divergence” with EU rules, John Marshall told members of the Luxembourg’s international business community on Friday. 2020 “is clearly a very important year,” he commented.

Marshall was speaking just a few hours after Boris Johnson and the Conservative party won a majority in the UK House of Commons, but well before the new government would be formed. So Marshall was stridently neutral in his talk.

In fact, he spoke about the position of British ambassadors during a fair chunk of his address. Many people assume, he said, that UK ambassadors are political appointees (as, for example, US ambassadors are). In the vast majority of cases, that is not true. British diplomats are impartial civil servants, Marshall stressed. That means “when the government changes [British diplomats] stay to deliver the policies of the incoming government.” Although, he did concede there are rare exceptions when diplomats resign rather than represent views that conflict with their own.

But, as a rule, “we keep our opinions private,” Marshall stated. “We serve the government of the day within the law.” This assures a certain level of “continuity” and means “any elected government can have confidence in us to deliver their policies.”

Marshall delivered his address at the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg’s annual Christmas luncheon. Its chairman, Daniel Eischen, noted in his comments that having a majority government in the UK would “probably answer all the questions we had up till now” about Brexit.