Leak on Brexit diplomacy provokes fury in Department of Foreign Affairs

RTÉ report on memo cites alarm over ‘chaos in the Conservative government’

Among other feedback to Dublin, the report reveals that, to his hosts’ surprise, at a meeting between Britain’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, and two French ministers, Mr Davis barely mentioned Brexit. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Among other feedback to Dublin, the report reveals that, to his hosts’ surprise, at a meeting between Britain’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, and two French ministers, Mr Davis barely mentioned Brexit. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

 

An internal memo by the Department of Foreign Affairs, leaked to RTÉ, which includes sharp criticisms of Britain’s performance in the Brexit negotiations, has been dismissed by one EU official as “diplomatic gossip”.

The memo cited alarm by senior EU figures over “chaos in the Conservative government” with British ministers and civil servants unable to agree a coherent policy on Brexit, according to RTÉ.

The report by Tony Connolly said the memo was based on extensive meetings between senior Irish diplomatic figures and government officials in European capitals.

While the EU official seemed to suggest the memo was “no big deal”, in fact such gossip is the real meat of day-to-day diplomacy. The leak provoked fury from the department, although it officially stated, “We are not commenting on the content of this leaked document” – as good as an official admission the document is authentic.

“These routine reports are internal and confidential and are not intended for the public domain,” the statement concluded.

Transparency

For the media they are, however, fair game, a legitimate part of our role sustaining democratic accountability through transparency. There were few real surprises.

The UK’s diplomatic outreach over Brexit has been openly derided in many capitals, and Irish diplomats reporting back to Dublin on their contacts reflected as much. There was talk of “chaos” in London and policy drift. And, not least, the widely reported perception, growing sharper by the day, that we will not be ready for a “sufficient progress” verdict on phase one talks by the looming December summit.

The dog that didn’t bark was also significant – the reports do not reflect any concern in partners’ capitals about the crunch demand from Ireland and the EU Brexit taskforce that the UK demonstrates in phase one how it intends to safeguard the frictionless Border on the island. The implication would seem clear: the 27 are united behind the demand.

The memo is a synopsis of political reports from Irish ambassadors on their meetings with government and foreign ministry officials in 10 EU member states and Japan in the weeks after the October EU summit. At that point Ireland and the commission had firmly put the Border issue back on the table following UK suggestions it was an issue for later, phase two talks. Among other feedback to Dublin, the report reveals that, to his hosts’ surprise, at a meeting between Britain’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, and two French ministers, Mr Davis barely mentioned Brexit.

The Portuguese were most worried about their citizens’ rights in the UK post-Brexit. A Czech minister told Irish diplomats that visiting the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was “unimpressive”, but at least had “avoided any gaffes”. The Czech deputy minister for foreign affairs, Jakub Dürr, apparently said “he felt sorry for British ambassadors around the EU trying to communicate a coherent message when there is political confusion at home”.

And a British judge in the European Court of Justice, Ian Forrester, bemoaned “the quality of politicians in Westminster”. He wondered if the British might view Brexit as “a great mistake” when they realised what leaving the EU entailed.

They may not all relish being quoted publicly, embarrassed Irish diplomats warned; and they may be less tempted to be as forthcoming in future, it is suggested.

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