A leaked document reveals Europe’s alarm at Britain’s Brexit “confusion.” Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs quotes senior EU figures describing “chaos in the Conservative government” and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as “unimpressive.”
According to RTE News, which obtained the document, officials said “the biggest problem is the chaotic political situation in the UK government,” with British ministers and civil servants unable to agree on a coherent Brexit policy. The report is based on an extensive round of meetings between senior Irish diplomatic figures and government officials in European capitals between 6 and 10 November.
This was some three weeks after the EU summit in Brussels, during which EU leaders told Prime Minister Theresa May that Britain needs to do more. The UK wants to move on to the second phase of negotiations, covering trade, as soon as possible. So far, the EU has said that cannot happen until Britain makes concessions on its financial liabilities, citizens’ rights and the border with Ireland.
According to the secret paper, several EU ministers are pessimistic and scornful of the UK government’s negotiating position. One of the claims made is that at a meeting between Brexit Secretary David Davis and the French ministers for defense and European affairs, Davis barely mentioned Brexit at all. This was much to the surprise of his hosts, RTE says, as they had regarded the meeting as an opportunity for Davis to unblock French resistance to negotiations graduating to the next phase.
A minister in the Czech government reportedly told his Irish interlocutors that Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was “unimpressive” but at least he had “avoided any gaffes” during a visit in September. Meanwhile, Czech Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Jakub Durr told officials “he felt sorry for British ambassadors around the EU trying to communicate a coherent message when there is political confusion at home.”
Equally damning were the reported comments of the UK’s member of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, Judge Ian Forrester. The report quotes him as saying he has “issues around the quality of politicians in Westminster at present.” He described Britain as “very divided,” adding it is “difficult to see any solutions to this in the current political context.”
According to the paper, Forrester went on to wonder whether the British public would view Brexit as “a great mistake” when they realized the reality of what leaving the EU meant for the UK.
The comments will cause concern for May, as she attempts to break the deadlock in Brexit talks before a crucial European Council summit next month. EU heads of state will use the meeting to decide if “sufficient progress” has been made on three key issues to allow negotiations to move to the next stage. According to the BBC, the government has refused to comment on the report. Instead Downing Street insisted the government is working hard on its preparations for Brexit.
It had a “good and constructive” relationship with the Irish government, a spokesperson said. The Irish government refused to comment on the document. “A core part of the work of our embassies and other missions abroad is to report on the views of our partners on what is a strategically vital issue for Ireland,” an Irish government spokesperson said. “These routine reports are internal and confidential and are not intended for the public domain.”