Government ministers report upsurge in contacts from British counterparts

Taoiseach warns Ministers not to engage with British requests to discuss the backstop

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, pictured at the European Financial Forum in Dublin Castle on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, pictured at the European Financial Forum in Dublin Castle on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

 

British ministers have stepped up efforts to lobby their Irish counterparts on Brexit with several contacts across Government recently turning to Brexit issues, Irish Government sources say.

Aside from British prime minister Theresa May’s visit to Dublin for a private dinner with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last Friday, the British attorney general Geoffrey Cox met with his Irish counterpart Séamus Woulfe.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy met with the British communities secretary James Brokenshire, while Britain’s home secretary Sajid Javid was in Dublin to meet with the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, other Government ministers have reported an upsurge in contacts from British ministers, both on a bilateral basis and in the context of EU meetings.

One Minister reported being on a conference call with a British minister who requested Ireland’s assistance in dealing with the EU. “I had to say, no, sorry,” the Minister said.

Another reported being “love-bombed” by his counterpart.

At the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the Taoiseach warned Ministers not to engage with British requests to discuss the backstop or the withdrawal agreement, reminding them that Brexit negotiations take place with the European Commission negotiating team led by Michel Barnier.

Ministers were warned to be sceptical about requests for meetings with their British counterparts, amid suspicions held by both Ministers and officials that Mrs May’s government is trying to show a flurry of activity on Brexit for domestic political reasons.

“They’re trying to look busy,” said one senior Government source in Dublin.

The source said Ministers had been instructed, “if the talk turns to Brexit, it shuts down.”

Another senior official said that there was a feeling in Dublin that the meeting between the two attorneys general last week was portrayed in the British media as a negotiation on changes to the backstop, which the Irish Government is adamant was not the case.

A spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Dublin said that in addition to meeting regularly in Brussels on EU business, “our ministers continue to engage with their Irish counterparts on issues such as the Common Travel Area, Northern Ireland, bilateral security and foreign policy. Both sides agree this will become increasingly important as the UK leaves the EU.”

One Irish Minister said he detected that many UK ministers are “uncomfortable and nervous” but that the visits and contacts were useful.

“Most of May’s cabinet don’t know Dublin, Belfast, border areas,” he said. “They get a sense of our priorities...They know and I know we’re not negotiating but we’re assessing and considering.”