UK diplomat asked to ‘peddle half-truths’ about Brexit’s impact on Ireland

Alexandra Hall Hall says UK ‘damagingly’ downplayed impact on NI peace process

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove at a press conference in June 24th, 2016, after the UK voted to leave the European Union. Photograph: Getty

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove at a press conference in June 24th, 2016, after the UK voted to leave the European Union. Photograph: Getty

 

A former top British diplomat in Washington has accused Boris Johnson’s government of damagingly downplaying the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland’s “delicate peace process” in statements intended for an American audience.

Alexandra Hall Hall, the lead Brexit envoy to the US who quit her job in late 2019 because she was unwilling to “peddle half-truths on behalf of a government I do not trust”, has condemned Mr Johnson’s government for being “wilfully disingenuous” in the official messages she was asked to deliver about Brexit in the US.

In a lengthy article published in a US academic journal, the former career diplomat excoriated the UK government for downplaying the cost and impact of Brexit in “public talking points” aimed at presenting the official UK government line in Washington.

“They downplayed the increased friction that was likely for businesses trading between the United Kingdom and the EU countries as well as third countries such as the United States, ” wrote Ms Hall Hall in the Texas National Security Review journal.

“But, most damagingly, the talking points also downplayed the consequences of Brexit for the delicate peace process in Northern Ireland, in which the United States was a core stakeholder, having helped to broker the [Belfast] Agreement and supported it since then,” she wrote.

Enormous damage

Ms Hall Hall wrote that one colleague at the UK embassy in Washington working on Northern Ireland was “nearly in tears” as he “could not get his minister to register the enormous damage that would be done to the fabric of Northern Ireland, politically and economically, if the United Kingdom left the European Union without a deal”.

“A low point for me was when I heard a senior British minister openly and offensively, in front of a US audience, dismiss the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Irish businesses as just affecting ‘a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks,’ ” she wrote.

The former diplomat said that when she was asked to brief American businesses with significant investments in the UK, she struggled to maintain the line that there would be “no harmful consequences” for them if the UK left the EU without a deal.

“I found it hard to brush aside the concerns of congressional aides working for members of the Irish-American caucus,” she wrote.

“Sometimes I had no answers to the questions that US stakeholders posed to me. The internal dissonance became acute: the professional ethos of the British diplomatic service was that we were upstanding civil servants, steeped in integrity, who never told lies.

“And yet, that was precisely what I was being asked to do.”

Ms Hall Hall, a former British ambassador to Georgia, was Britain’s Brexit counsellor in the US from 2018 to December 2019, when she resigned.

She said she stepped down because she was asked to convey messages to US representatives and politicians that were “neither fully honest nor politically impartial”.

In her resignation letter published at the time, she said that her position had become “unbearable personally” and “untenable professionally”.