Tuesday 16 July 2019

Cabinet hits out at Boris over Brexit

Foreign Secretary 'does not have clue' - Minister

RECKLESS: Boris Johnson. Picture: Reuters
RECKLESS: Boris Johnson. Picture: Reuters
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The Government is becoming deeply frustrated with the tactics of hard Brexit-supporting UK Conservative Party ministers who it believes are seeking to undermine negotiations with the EU on the Northern Ireland border.

Several senior Government figures have vented anger at UK Prime Minister Theresa May's failure to rein in her ministers who are being blamed here for stifling progress on the border issue.

One furious Government source told the Sunday Independent that Brexit campaigners in the UK cabinet, such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, were "spiralling out of control" and risking the collapse of negotiations, with a key European Council summit due to take place on June 28.

A no-deal Brexit would be the worst possible outcome for Ireland. Yesterday Government sources admitted such an outcome was more of a concern now than before, following developments in the UK last week - and the blame is being laid squarely on so-called 'Brexiteers' in the UK.

A Government minister central to the negotiations said Mr Johnson and his supporters "don't have a clue" about the realities or politics of the Northern Ireland border.

"It's a joke - you have people spouting on, that it's not a big issue, who probably haven't stepped foot in one of the counties for 20 years and all they can remember is what they remember from 20 years ago," the minister said.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he "can't concern" himself with internal problems in the British government. Mr Varadkar also said it was a "real problem" that Mrs May had not produced her white paper on Britain's future after Brexit.

Mr Johnson ignited tensions last week by dismissing Irish concerns over the border as "beyond belief" in a leaked recording of a private Conservative party meeting.

A minister said the majority of those involved in the negotiations "know there's an issue and aren't talking like Boris is talking". "It's not all of them, but unfortunately it's the ones in powerful positions who seem to be able to hold Theresa May over a barrel who have that attitude and that's bad for us," the minister said.

A senior figure in the Department of the Taoiseach said Mr Johnson's comments showed an "air of unreality and lack of knowledge about the way of the world". "These people are holding senior positions but acting like backbenchers," the source said.

In a leaked recording from the private Conservative meeting last week, Mr Johnson dismissed concerns over reaching a deal on the border as "pure millennium bug stuff" - in reference to fears of widespread computer failures at the turn of the century.

"It's so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly, it's just beyond belief that we're allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way."

The recording was leaked to news website Buzzfeed at the height of Brexit negotiations last week when Mrs May was finally tabling a formal UK solution on the Northern Ireland border.

A number of senior government sources suggested Mr Johnson was fully aware his divisive comments on Northern Ireland would leak from the meeting with party donors.

"Sometimes you speak in a closed audience knowing it's going to be leaked," one source said. "Was it aimed at scoring Brexiteer points when Brexit Secretary David Davis was clocking them up all week?"

Another source said Mr Davis was the "sanest" of the anti-EU British ministers but added that Education Secretary Michael Gove was "not even liked by Brexiteers".

A senior Department of the Taoiseach source said Mr Varadkar had instructed his ministers not to publicly attack their UK counterparts.

"If we get into a slagging match, we are not going to get a good outcome so you focus on the discussion with May and her team. The other stuff is just a distraction," the source said.

A Cabinet minister said the Taoiseach was "doing well by not responding to every irritating comment" from a member of the British cabinet.

Sunday Independent

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