Britain's outgoing representative at the European Union, Sir Ivan Rogers, launched a thinly-veiled attack on the government's Brexit preparations in a leaked resignation email he sent to staff.
Rogers who is one of the UK's most senior EU negotiators, unexpectedly resigned from his role earlier today.
As his fixed-term role ends in October, Rogers told staff in the email, first published by the Times, that it would make "no sense for my role to change hands later this year", and quitting now permits a new appointee to be in place by the time Article 50 is invoked by the end of March.
He urged staff to "stick with it, to keep on working at intensifying your links with opposite numbers in DEXEU [the Department for Exiting the European Union]" and added that his resignation will temporarily add to the uncertainty many in the UK's team in Brussels are feeling.
But it is a paragraph later in the email that many have picked up on as a barely-coded takedown of the government's approach to the unfolding Brexit negotiations, in which Rogers tells colleagues to challenge "muddled thinking":
For my part, I hope that in my day-to-day dealings with you I have demonstrated the values which I have always espoused as a public servant. I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power. I hope that you will support each other in those difficult moments where you have to deliver messages that are disagreeable to those who need to hear them. I hope that you will continue to be interested in the views of others, even where you disagree with them, and in understanding why others act and think in the way that they do. I hope that you will always provide the best advice and counsel you can to the politicians that our people have elected, and be proud of the essential role we play in the service of a great democracy.
Here is the key paragraph in Sir Ivan Rogers' astonishing resignation email to his staff. It does not need much decoding. pic.twitter.com/AH3vtauWnM— James Landale (@BBCJLandale) January 3, 2017
In the email, Rogers also stressed that Whitehall will need to harness the experience of the UK's team based at the EU if it wants to achieve "the best for the country".
Serious multilateral negotiating experience is in short supply in Whitehall, and that is not the case in the [European] Commission or in the Council. The government will only achieve the best for the country if it harnesses the best experience we have – a large proportion of which is concentrated in UKREP – and negotiates resolutely. Senior ministers, who will decide on our positions, issue by issue, also need from you detailed, unvarnished – even where this is uncomfortable - and nuanced understanding of the views, interests and incentives of the other 27.
The structure of the UK’s negotiating team and the allocation of roles and responsibilities to support that team, needs rapid resolution. The working methods which enable the team in London and Brussels to function seamlessly need also to be strengthened.
In response to the email, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: "It is damning when our own top people are slamming this Conservative Brexit government for using ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking.
"We need our top people around the table if we are going to avoid wrecking the country with Brexit. It is shameful that vital, talented people like Ivan Rogers are instead being driven away."