Dublin united in its criticism of Johnson’s ‘chaos’

The Government expects its British counterpart to in the end act rationally in line with its own interests

Simon  Coveney: “The British government has decided to cause chaos.”  Photograph: Getty Images

Simon Coveney: “The British government has decided to cause chaos.” Photograph: Getty Images


In a Government that has sometimes struggled to present a united front, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs were all on the same page on Wednesday morning, united in criticism of Boris Johnson.

The British government’s plan, they said, could not unilaterally set aside aspects of the withdrawal treaty, insisting that negotiations on a trade agreement could not proceed on the basis that the UK might ignore those parts of an agreement it did not like.

The criticism across the EU of the UK’s move became more pungent throughout the day after the published text of the proposed legislation confirmed British intentions.

“The British government has decided to cause chaos,” Simon Coveney summarised on Wednesday night, as Micheál Martin was bending Johnson’s ear in “forthright terms”, Government Buildings let it be known, in a telephone call with Downing Street.

In Dublin, while preparations for a no-deal outcome are accelerating in the knowledge it is now a more realistic prospect than ever before, the predominant view – though by no means the only one – remains that the British government will ultimately seek to agree a trade deal because it will not wish to accept the massive economic disruption that would result from a no-deal.

The Irish Government, in other words, expects its British counterpart to act rationally in line with its own interests in the end.

People at all levels of politics and officialdom here and in the EU ask: how can the UK expect people to make agreements with it if it casually discards the bits it does not like?

In this view, then – which holds that the British government is not actually a rogue actor on the international stage, merely threatening to act like one –the British actions of recent days are “sabre-rattling”.

Expect much more of this in the coming weeks, and then expect the UK to do a deal in the end.

This, after all, is what Theresa May did twice. Then Johnson did it last year.

As to the statements in the House of Commons, well if one is going to rattle a sabre there is no point in giving it a minor tinkle – one may as well make a bit of noise with it.

People may take sabres out and wave them around a bit. But ultimately the Irish view is that the sabre will be put away, and that the British will accept that jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

But progress has been minimal; the two sides remain separated by a chasm. The mad scramble as the clock ticks down has been a characteristic through Brexit. The Irish side expects that pattern to be repeated.

But there is no doubt that the view is held somewhat more nervously now.