Senior government figures fear UK is inching towards no-deal Brexit

Mood darkening in Dublin with Johnson considered likely to succeed May

The mood in Dublin on Brexit has darkened in recent weeks with some political figures now wondering if the UK crashing out of the European Union in October without a deal can be avoided, senior sources say.

After warnings by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney at Cabinet this week that a no-deal Brexit was more likely than ever, the Taoiseach insisted that he believed an orderly, negotiated Brexit was still the most likely outcome.

The Government’s official spokesman said that a British exit on the basis of the withdrawal agreement was still Dublin’s “central-case scenario”.

However, senior figures in Dublin say privately that the momentum in London appears to be heading for a no-deal outcome.


Optimism that Theresa May could pass the agreement after the EU granted a six-month extension in April has quickly given way to a realisation that it is almost certain to be a different UK prime minister – with a much harder attitude to Brexit – attending the next EU summit.

Hard Brexiteer

“There’s a strong chance a hard Brexiteer will be elected [to replace Mrs May],” said one source in Dublin. “During the campaign they will promise to go back to the EU and demand a new deal, and that if the EU says no, there will be a no-deal in October.”

Most officials and political sources expect Boris Johnson to win any Tory leadership race. Under Conservative Party rules, MPs select two candidates to go before the membership, who then choose the eventual winner.

Diplomatic sources also said that pessimism had grown in Brussels and among other EU states about the prospects of avoiding a no-deal Brexit. They said that a new European Parliament with a strong Eurosceptic element – including the British – would only fuel the sense among EU member states and the institutions that the EU could not go on with the disruptive British presence.

“[French president Emmanuel] Macron’s position will harden,” said one official. “He’ll say: ‘Enough is enough.’”

Dublin favoured a longer extension than the six months agreed at the last European summit, but felt then that if another extension was required in October, it was likely to be granted. However, officials now say that is in doubt from both sides.

It is doubtful, they say, that a new Conservative prime minister would seek another extension in preference to a no-deal Brexit in October – especially as he or she is likely to have promised not to do so during the Conservative Party leadership election.

And even if the British did seek another extension, it is not certain that it would be granted, officials say.

Sources also said that preparations for a no-deal Brexit would intensify over the coming months, though discussions on the border have yet to recommence with the European Commission.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times