Monday 19 August 2019

Irish officials unimpressed with Boris Johsnson's grasp on dangers posed by Brexit

Civil servants had to clarify what Johnson said

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at Iveagh House yesterday Picture: Gerry Mooney
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at Iveagh House yesterday Picture: Gerry Mooney

Kevin Doyle and Shona Murray

Irish officials were deeply unimpressed by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's grasp of the dangers posed by Brexit, the Irish Independent understands.

In a worrying development, civil servants frequently had to clarify the Tory politician's statements during a series of meetings in Dublin.

One source warned he "has no idea of the practical ramifications" of the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

"He wants Brexit and wants it now. He doesn't care if it's hard or soft. He just wants out," a well-placed source said.

Anglo-Irish relations are now at one of their lowest ebbs in modern history, amid growing speculation that Ireland will block the Brexit negotiations from progressing.

All sides had hoped that the opening phase dealing with Ireland, citizens' rights and the divorce bill, would be resolved next month.

Mr Johnson's first visit to Dublin since Brexit began on a shaky note when he repeatedly clashed with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at an early morning press conference.

Asked by the Irish Independent if he could offer any vision of how the UK believes a frictionless Border could operate after Brexit, Mr Johnson said this was "intellectually, intimately bound up" in the second phase of the negotiations.

In response, Mr Coveney said: "Yes, we all want to move on to phase two of the Brexit negotiations but we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that."

Read More: Brexiteer bluster can't hide fact that Boris is winging it

At the same time, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was holding a bilateral meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May on the fringes of an EU summit in Gothenburg. But he also appeared to make little progress, saying afterwards: "Nothing has changed."

Mr Varadkar said there was a "frank exchange of views" and that Britain has still not come up with any proposals as to how best solve the matter of avoiding a hard Border with Northern Ireland.

"It's 18 months since the referendum, its 10 years since people wanting a referendum started agitating; looking for one. Sometimes it doesn't feel like they have thought all of this through," he said.

"We've been given assurances now for 18 months since the referendum that there'll be no hard Border in Ireland; that there'll be no physical infrastructure; that we won't go back to the borders of the past.

"We want that written down in practical terms in the conclusions of phase one," Mr Varadkar said.

The two meetings leave a major impasse which could now stall the Brexit talks into the new year.

But one Dublin source said last night: "They are in Borisland. It's a parallel world."

Particular concern has been raised by the fact Mr Johnson linked finding a solution to the Irish Border to the situations in Dover and Calais.

"Northern Ireland was always a unique case, which is why it's in phase one," a source said.

After his meeting in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Johnson met with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

Mr Martin said his "abiding sense is a chasm between what they [the UK] would like to happen, their concept of what Brexit could mean and the realities of the practical implications and follow-through on Brexit".

He said Mr Johnson "didn't hold back" but added: "There is a sense around this that 'everything will be alright on the night' but we can't negotiate on that basis."

Asked whether he fears negotiations might move to phase two in December, he said Ireland needs to go to the next EU meeting with "eyes wide open".

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section