Department halts weekly Brexit reports following leak
Document relayed strong criticisms of the UK’s performance in Brexit negotiations
Michel Barnier with Tánaiste Simon Coveney: leaked report highlighted sharp criticisms of London from other European Union states. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty
The Department of Foreign Affairs has stopped circulating a weekly Brexit report to key Irish officials following a leak last month, which highlighted sharp criticisms of London from other European Union states.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said no reports had been circulated since the “very serious” leak occurred on November 23rd, when a copy was secured by RTÉ’s Europe editor, Tony Connelly.
The document relayed strong criticisms of the UK’s performance in Brexit negotiations from interviews with Government ministers, politicians, civil servants and others across the EU.
A Czech minister is quoted telling Irish diplomats that British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was “unimpressive”, while the Czech deputy foreign minister, Jakub Dürr was quoted saying he “felt sorry for British ambassadors”.
A British judge in the European Court of Justice, Ian Forrester, was reported as bemoaning “the quality of politicians in Westminster”, and wondered if UK voters would come to see Brexit as “a great mistake”.
The Tánaiste said the report had been circulated to about 40 people, some inside the department, some in other departments.
The secretary general of the department Niall Burgess is investigating the leak and had spoken directly to his own officials and contacted others elsewhere though fellow secretaries general of other Government departments.
Saying that the document “is not a significant report”, Mr Coveney said that it should, nevertheless, not have entered into the public domain: “We’re annoyed about it,” he told TDs.
The secretary general “is trying to get to the bottom of it,” he said, adding: “It is very disappointing and regrettable that a recipient of the summary would have leaked it to a journalist.”
This was the first summary to have leaked out of approximately 40 documents which have recorded the thoughts of politicians and diplomats in other EU states.
Sometimes when leaks happen it is very difficult to get to the bottom of who is responsible, he told Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien, adding that the leak had proven to “be embarrassing” for a number of people quoted.
Distribution of the summary has stopped for now. “Until we’re comfortable with putting in place a distribution system that we had before, knowing that it won’t result in another leak, we’re not going to do it”.
Mr Coveney said the core part of the work of Ireland’s EU embassies was to report on the views of other states.
These are summarised into weekly reports. “They are not intended for the public domain and do relate to policy papers or meetings of sensitive character.”
He later clarified his comments when Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien said the report was “very significant to those mentioned in it and absolutely mortifying and embarrassing”.
Mr O’Brien claimed that “this is a breach effectively that would be nearly of strategic national importance whether you believe the document was significant or not”.
The Tánaiste said the document was a weekly briefing. “The content of it of course was significant but it wasn’t a briefing of a significant report.”
He said: “It was embarrassing for some of the people who were named in it. We obviously made the necessary contacts to assure people and to explain what had happened and that it would not happen again.”
Mr O’Brien said “we’ve got to be sure that the reporting of the negotiations with our European partners has got to be absolutely watertight”.
Mr Coveney said circulation of the reports has ceased and “until I receive is report I maintain an open mind on how it occurred and how it might best be prevented in the future”.
“Let’s not pretend that this is an easy process but we will take actions to ensure we don’t have a repeat of this.”