Dublin refuses to engage with UK on plan for no-deal Brexit

Irish and EU leaders will not discuss how to manage Border until Britain leaves EU

The Government has refused to engage in discussions with the UK about no-deal preparations, including on how to avoid checks on the Border, in recent contacts with London, The Irish Times understands.

The new British government wants to talk to Dublin about managing a no-deal exit, but Irish Ministers and officials have declined, according to three people briefed on the contents of recent exchanges.

The Government and EU leaders are sticking to the position there will be no discussions with the UK on how to manage a no-deal on the Border until after the UK has left the EU, according to senior sources in Dublin and Brussels. No-deal preparations are a unilateral EU matter, they said.

Relations between the EU and the UK on Brexit have worsened in recent days as the EU moved quickly to rebuff a request from British prime minister Boris Johnson to drop the backstop guarantee and open negotiations on an alternative.


On Tuesday, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney pressed British Brexit secretary Steve Barclay for detail on the British proposals, made in Mr Johnson’s letter to Brussels on Monday, to substitute alternative mechanisms and guarantees for the backstop, but none was forthcoming, sources say.

Looming showdown

The view in Dublin and in Brussels is that Mr Johnson is preparing for a showdown with opponents of a no-deal Brexit in parliament early next month, and a possible general election, and no serious discussions with the new British government can take place until after that process is concluded.

Several senior sources in Brussels and Dublin said they believed Mr Johnson’s political and diplomatic offensive was aimed not primarily at Ireland and the EU, but rather at a domestic audience.

With the EU adopting a wait-and-see attitude, there are few expectations of any progress when Mr Johnson meets the French and German leaders later this week. On Tuesday, Mr Johnson said the EU was being “a bit negative”, but he believed there would be agreement to drop the backstop.

Dublin was encouraged by the EU’s response to Mr Johnson’s letter, however, which was quickly dismissed by the president of the European Council of EU leaders, Donald Tusk.

Mr Tusk said those who wanted to drop the backstop without realistic alternatives were effectively advocating the return of a hard border in Ireland.

‘Bluster’ and ‘blame’

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said he did not see any majority in the European Parliament for removing the backstop from the withdrawal agreement.

“It is a vital insurance policy, negotiated in good faith and supported by the people of the island of Ireland,” he said in a post on Twitter. “The time for bluster and political blame games is fast running out.”

Irish officials pointed to the line in Mr Johnson’s letter to Mr Tusk where he withdrew from the commitment made by his predecessor, Theresa May, to maintain full alignment with EU rules in order to preserve an open border if the EU and UK failed to agree on others ways of doing so. “They are reneging on the commitments the British government has made before now,” said one senior Irish source. “That’s the real takeaway from this.”

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney is to travel to Denmark on Wednesday and to several EU capitals next week for talks about Brexit and other EU issues. Next week, Mr Coveney will visit Prague (Tuesday), Paris (Wednesday), Helsinki (Thursday and Friday) and Warsaw (Sunday) as Brexit preparations intensify.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times