Irish Brexit official: British ministers think that Brexit is an act of self harm

The Irish Times had an interesting story yesterday, quoting one of the Irish Brexit officials as saying that British Ministers realise that Brexit is a huge mistake.

The British government is slowly realising Brexit is “an act of great self-harm” and that upcoming EU-UK negotiations must seek to limit the damage, the State’s top Brexit official has said.
The official, John Callinan, said on Thursday: “I see signs in the contacts that we’re having, both at EU level and with the UK, of a gradual realisation that Brexit in many ways is an act of great self-harm, and that the focus now is on minimising that self-harm.”

Mr Callinan also highlighted the existence of internal divisions on the British side just weeks out from the start of formal withdrawal negotiations with the EU, saying it was clear there was “no single, settled position” on Brexit in London.

“Even within the British government, there are very different views,” he said.

Responding to this report, Tim Farron said:

These reports confirm what many of us have suspected. The Liberal Democrats have warned from the get go that Brexit is a monumental act of self-harm.

The Chancellor is clearly terrified as he wonders how on earth he can possibly fill an estimated £200bn Brexit black hole in the UK economy over the next 15 years.

The scandal is why Theresa May is still blindly pursuing a hard Brexit when she knows the evidence is now overwhelming that you can’t have a hard Brexit and a successful economy, or the decent public services that rely on wealth creation.

The question now is whether Theresa May is prepared to do the right thing and face down the Brexit ultras in her cabinet. That is the only way she can keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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37 Comments

  • nigel hunter 15th Apr '17 - 9:36pm

    Is Hammond’s cuts in military spending etc. him trying to start balancing the Brexit books. Result the country becomes poorer. Equally I notice that Paul Dacre has a farm in Scotland and he receives around Half a million pounds from the CAP farming subsidies Ironic that the paper he is involved in does not like the EU whilst he obtains funds from it. What will he say when he looses this money?

  • In fairness more than half of the current Ministers campaigned against Brexit so this is no surprise….

  • Bill le Breton 15th Apr '17 - 10:24pm

    I read this article this morning and what struck me was this comment ascribed to Mr Cullinan, “He said that Dublin had to “navigate a delicate path” in not being seen to negotiate bilaterally with London, which might upset EU partners.
    However, he said that, at the same time, “we’re unrepentant about the level of close engagement and discussion that we have been having with them [the UK]”.

    The EU Commission is finding it very difficult to prevent individual states from ‘talking’ to the UK bilaterally. Everyone is looking to their own economic advantage. The UK is a huge player in continental European trade.

    Already, and talks haven’t started, the Commission is floating ideas for the UK to ‘land’ on the EFTA/EEA aircraft: http://www.politico.eu/article/eu-brussels-suggests-norway-model-for-uk-after-brexit-talks-negotiations/

    So, there are going be negotiations on the future, quickly after the start of negotiations on the ‘divorce’. Those negotiations are going to lead to a transitional deal based on a free trade agreement to preserve everyone’s supply chains and existing trading relationships.

    Everyone is presently engaged on political management of their own audiences – as one would expect. People are dancing towards the centre of the ballroom where there’s a deal that a) preserves existing trade, b) provides the richer countries with an immigration break – they all want one, c) provides for some increased transfer payments to the poorer ones as a quid pro quo.

    It will happen and our fox will be shot.

  • David Becket 15th Apr '17 - 11:18pm

    Our fox need not be shot.

    We are campaigning for a soft Brexit. If we get a satisfactory outcome, though not the ideal of staying in the EU, we will have to adapt. It would not be difficult to claim that our campaign for a soft Brexit has been successful and replace the need for an immediate referendum. We have after all knocked some common sense into May and Co. We can then wait for a General Election when we can put our policies with respect to the EU forward..

    With care we can make this a win win, whatever the outcome

  • Bill,

    We are presenting a case. If Brexit goes well (very unlikely) no one will remember the case put by anyone but the Tories. If it goes less than spectacularly well, what’s left of UKIP will howl at the betrayers in the Tory party, the Lib Dems will run on we told you so and Labour, well who knows what they will do, probably manage to run with UKIP, ourselves and the Tories ( a clear case they seem incapable of making).

    It is also worth pointing out at the moment the Tories are battening down the hatches. No money for anything and that is going to cost them, disgruntled voters not getting what they feel they deserve, especially as they have been told its all sunlit uplands. I know the coming economic issues are not all to do with Brexit but to the majority of the population who like simple answers it will appear to be.

    Perhaps a fox will be shot, the constant blaming the EU, still I’m sure there are some immigrants the right wing can blame.

  • Andrew Tampion 16th Apr '17 - 7:23am

    frankie
    If there is a successful deal (which I think is likely) then Bill is more likely to be right than you are. The anti EU press will waste no opportunity to remind their readers of the case that we have put. Furthermore we will be portrayed as unpatriotic.
    The Chancellor may be battening down the hatches: but it is more likely that he is doing what any sensible politician would do and trying to build up a reserve to pay for a give away budget in 2019.
    I any case the report seems to be misleading in that Mr Callinan does not say as Caron says that British Ministers realise that Brexit is a mistake. He says in the part quoted that BOTH (my emphasis) EU and UK contacts (not ministers although contacts may include ministers or those speaking on their behalf) are realising that Brexit will be an act of self harm. If EU officials or Governments of other EU nations think that Brexit will harm their economy then they are more likely to make a deal that gives the UK Government what it wants: free trade with control over immigration. If that happens our fox will be blasted at point blank range with a 12 bore shotgun.

  • Nom de Plume 16th Apr '17 - 7:51am

    The fox has been shot many times. It has never killed it.

  • Andy Coleby 16th Apr '17 - 7:55am

    Before the referendum I came across far more people who were going to vote for Brexit than were going to vote remain.
    The strange and scary thing was that when talking to these people about the
    horrendous economic consequences
    of leaving the EU their eyes would just glaze over.
    The big concern that I came across was immigration and also the utterly meaningless/unachievable idea of “getting our country back”.
    The root cause of the result that is Brexit
    is a very vociferous minority of dangerously narrow minded Tory MP”s
    successfully pressurising Cameron into holding a referendum.
    The reason so many voted for Brexit was scaremongering over immigration.
    It could also be argued that Blair’s “open door” policy as regards immigration sowed the seeds of the Brexit result.

  • Bill le Breton 16th Apr '17 - 8:04am

    David, but we are not ‘campaigning for a soft Brexit’.

    Andrew has articulated much more clearly than I my concerns over this piece of nonesense in the Irish Times and in explaining that there is a common interest being voiced by HMG, The Commission, The President and the key EU negotiator that a deal taking us all to 2022 at the least is emerging.

    That is what you expect to happen in negotiations. Early fears and scares melt away when once their use has gone. Only the irrational fanatics keep voicing them, long after the main players have moved on to serious business.

    Meanwhile we are using all the stuff about ‘volume over time’ or whatever it was that failed to bring us any traction in the run up to the 2015 election. It is not clever. And it does mean that we surrender any influence we should have on the shape of the actual deal. Dare I accuse those responsible of protest politics and not being grown up about power and influence? You bet I do.

  • Nom de Plume 16th Apr '17 - 8:37am

    Bill le Breton, I do not consider holding the government to account over its dealings with the EU to be protest politics. It is called opposition. Brexit still has long way to go and no one knows how it will turn out. We have no direct influence on the outcome of the negotiations. That is the business of government. Since the party is broadly pro-EU, opposition is the best way of gaining influence. Possibly even, through the ballot box.

  • The Irish Times is right. If our government were full of wise leaders they would engage with WHY people voted Leave, and not assume it was wise to actually leave.

    On the analogy with self-harm… if someone turns up at hospital having self-harmed, we wouldn’t expect the medics to “respect their choice to be wounded”, but we would expect the medics to treat the wounds and engage with the distress behind the self-harming behaviour

  • A question to those who expect Brexit to go well, why will it? Please tell me why, I don’t want feelings, a few facts will do. The Brexiteers seem to just hope it will go well even though so far it hasn’t.

  • Andrew Tampion 16th Apr '17 - 9:27am

    Mark
    I think the safest policy in the absence of evidence to the contrary is to assume that people mean what they say. In this case people voted to leave the EU because they want to leave the EU. In that case a wise politician seeks to find out what they want the new settlement to be. In this case most people, including many Remain voters (and I am one of them) want free trade and more control over immigration. There is abundant polling evidence to support this. Your position appears to be that since you personally cannot imagine why any one would want to vote to leave the EU then the Leave voters must have had some other reason for voting Leave.
    Incidentally my earlier post may be taken as stating that I believe leaving the EU is an act of self harm. My true position is that if we don’t get an acceptable deal then it will be detrimental to our economy; but not a disaster. Since as Bill has said it is in all party’s interests to reach an acceptable deal there will probably be an acceptable deal.
    The most likely reason for no deal in my view is catastrophic unravelling of the EU caused by events. For example a collapse in the value of the Euro caused by increases in US interest rates and resulting in either significant inflation or a significant hike in Eurozone interest rates or both. In which case we would probably be better of out. For the avoidance of doubt I am not predicting the above and certainly don’t want it to happen I am merely pointing out the risks as I see them.

  • Bill le Breton 16th Apr '17 - 9:31am

    N de P, I have been a life long protest politician.

    But there are two approaches; one, which I hope you condemn, is where an individual or party creates a scare which they then protest against. The second is where there is a genuine injustice. Once upon a time a celebrated Liberal campaigner carried a mattress around in ‘their’ van and when there wasn’t an issue to campaign on, put it on a rough piece of ground, photographed it and led a campaign for its removal.

    That is what this party is doing with the concept of a ‘hard’ Brexit. It is a deception which hides the truth that a deal will be done.

    Nor do I agree that if we behaved differently we would not have an influence. Nor do I agree that we have no responsibility to put forward and campaign for what David B above imagines we are campaigning for. An EFTA, EEA non-EU model designed specifically for the UK would be best for the countries of the UK and helpful to the EU27 which are about to settle their own strategy for the next twenty years.

    Ours is not a case of self-harm. Self harm has been done by the Commission and especially the European Central Bank over the last dozen years – encouraging debt in importing members of the 28, encouraging surpluses in the German core and then forcing the debtor nations into perpetual depression and civic disunity. Think of the harm done over the last decade to the Irish economy.

  • Peter Martin 16th Apr '17 - 9:54am

    @ Bill le Breton,

    I think your last paragraph is broadly correct but I’d just make the point that we need to distinguish between surpluses and deficits in each of the three key sectors in any national economy. So for example the much talked about German surplus is the surplus that Germany, as a whole, runs in its international trade with the the Rest of the World. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the German government has to run a surplus in its budget. Though it probably does mean this is the German private sector doesn’t save enough.

    A key problem for all euro using countries is that they can’t control their own trade balance by applying tariffs. They can’t control it by devaluing their currency. If the local population has too much appetite for purchasing imports (though this obviously isn’t the case in Germany) all that governments can do is plunge their economies into recession. This simply means that the people can’t then afford those imports.

  • Nom de Plume 16th Apr '17 - 10:07am

    If there was a good EEA type deal, it would probably be best just to accept it. It would not be hard Brexit. All that is a long way off. Such a deal would unlikely be acceptable to the Tory right and UKIPers. Britain would have gained a degree of sovereignty and lost a lot of influence. I would still prefer EU membership.

    Problems with the euro are a separate issue.

  • Jenny Barnes 16th Apr '17 - 10:08am

    Andrew “many Remain voters (and I am one of them) want free trade and more control over immigration.”

    Whenever anyone in power is asked about immigration for a particular sector – health care, leek picking, care workers, skilled IT staff, hospitality,bricklayers & plumbers, you name it, then:
    “Oh there will be an exception for them, we couldn’t run the economy without immigrants in that sector” So what does your desired “control over immigration” amount to? Nothing.

  • Andrew Tampion 16th Apr '17 - 10:27am

    Jenny
    Sorry to be blunt to the point of rudeness but where in my post does it say that I want a reduction in immigration. The word I used was control. Control was also the word used by many prominent Leave campaigners.
    If we are able to achieve control over immigration then we can set our own rules which will probably mean an overall reduction. But that is not an inevitable consequence of control. The exact form of immigration control, which might as your post suggests include sector by sector distinction is a matter for our elected representative to decide. At the moment we have no control because any citizen of an EU member state has the automatic right of entry by virtue of their EU citizen.
    By all means criticise my argument if you think I’m wrong. Please don’t put words in my mouth that I have not used.

  • Nom de Plume 16th Apr '17 - 10:57am

    Good luck with cherry picking.

  • Nom de Plume 16th Apr '17 - 11:06am

    Furthermore, any such agreement, if at all possible, will be reciprocal.

  • Nom de Plume 16th Apr '17 - 11:12am

    Project Fantasy continues.

  • So Brexiteers want control over immigration , that means to Joe and Josephine public stopping immigration, but that isn’t the type of control that will be offered. Can you start to see there will be many disappointed leave voters over that, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya

    “You Keep Using That Word Brexit, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

    and that is the problem for the brave Brexiteers each has his or her own Brexit dream and they are not compatible, so even if Brexit goes well for some it will go badly for others.

  • Philip Craxford 16th Apr '17 - 12:55pm

    @Andrew Tampion

    Sorry, I’m a bit confused. In your comment to Mark you suggest that Leave voters would have some other reason to Leave other than just leaving itself? Surely a decision is made by considering supporting facts. Are you suggesting that some leave voters simply made a decision ( a mental flip of a coin) based on no outside factors?

    Also, for most I would suggest ‘control’ equates to a reduction in immigration. Could you see a Brexit supporter agreeing to increased immigration if it were ‘controlled’. I ask because looking at the demographics of the UK in order to maintain our current standard of prosperity we are going to need more people at every level of society from other countries.

  • Having heard Theresa May’s ‘Easter Benediction’, I have reluctantly accepted that we will leave and, as urged by ‘Brexiteers’, I am determined to make the best of it…

    BTW..I am leading by example and, this weekend, I have started to build a stable for my free unicorn (as promised by Farage, Johnson, Gove, etc..). I am using plain bricks and mortar at the moment but, when ‘Brexit’ really gets going, I’ll rebuild it in solid gold….

  • @Philip

    Leave voters voted leave for all numbers of reasons. You’d be surprised how many voted for leave for reasons other than leave. My unscientific survey (previously posted) showed the following

    Vote leave to regain sovereignty :-1
    Vote leave because his girl friend told him too :-1
    Voted leave because her dad and mum had :-1 (the girl friend)
    Voted leave because his wife is German and it would wind her up :-1. Interestingly enough now planning to move to Germany, because his wife doesn’t like it here any-more, he’s a very sad panda.
    Voted leave to get rid of the immigrants, especially the Muslim ones :-4. All four are waiting for Labour to get rid of Corbyn and elect a leader who will do this.
    Voted leave because our management had advised a remain vote :-2. No way they’d do what management was telling them, they’d show them.

    Now that is only a survey of my family, friends and workmates who feel they have to explain their actions or in some cases revel in it. Many more don’t mention Brexit and they may be as you say they have voted leave after carefully considering the issues, I rather doubt that though, as Aaron Banks said

    “The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.”

    Just a thought though, emotions tend to lead to rash decisions of which we will all repent at a later date.

  • Why do some people persist in labelling real problems with Brexit as scare stories? The only half decent deal would be staying in the single market. Anything less and we will be locked into terminal economic decline. Bill le Breton – name one major economy that is not inside a trading bloc?

  • Bill le Breton 16th Apr '17 - 3:41pm

    Tories are very good at Party management. People here seem not to be able to recognise it as something successful Parties are very good at. We used to be quite good at it, when the Party was going forward, but stopped trying to practice it in 2007.

    May, Hammond and Davies are the three who matter and they are working very closely together. The voices of the rest will grow weaker the nearer we come to ‘deal time’. By late 2018 the Tory party will unite around the deal they negotiate. You won’t hear a peep out of any of them til after a general election. The EU27 will have a few wins. May will have a few wins.

    The deal will include a break in freedom of movement. The break is unlikely to be confined to the UK. And surprise surprise the shape of the UK break (and the selection policy that is made possible by the terms of the deal) will be very similar to the policy in our 2010 manifesto. They do always nick our ideas, eventually.

    Are we going to campaign against that? I think not. Is anyone here against our 2010 policy because I don’t remember you yelling then?

    Yes Peter, I was referring to trade deficits and surpluses, sloppy language, sorry.

  • No answer from Bill about trading blocs. How is a break in free movement inside what is left of the EU going to help the UK Bill? The fact is that the Germans instituted such a break before for themselves – when the the A10 countries joined – from 2004 onwards. Cameron could have tried to negotiate that himself if he had wanted to. Germany doesnt need to stop free movement – its best manufacturers hoover up the best talent. Free movement was never sacred to France and Germany – the precise opposite is the case – but anyone against immigration only needed to put this case and cite 2004. People – even older people – have very short memories.

  • Andrew McCaig 16th Apr '17 - 5:03pm

    I agree there is some sign that the EU will offer a transitional deal of membership of the Single Market, and we may accept it. It is possible that the Single Market as a whole may erode Freedom of Movement but there are many opinions against that..

    The end of the transitional deal envisaged by St Theresa is a free trade deal on her terms. That is unlikely to be on the table. What we are offered may well be a deal without frictionless trade which leads to companies like Nissan relocating to the EU.

    At that point we can campaign for indefinite extension of the transitional deal (remember Thatcher’s temporary budget rebate?), or for a transition back to full membership which is what EEA membership is supposed to be. That transition might involve another referendum.

    The future is uncertain and nothing should be ruled out. Meanwhile our position that Remain is best is perfectly tenable

  • Martin – free movement was effectively suspended from 2004 til 2011. The A10 nationals were not free to work in Germany or France or Italy or many other countries during those years. At the same time Germans as individuals were not able to buy land in some of those countries. It may well be that the EU demands free movement as a condition of single market membership. But that is because the UKs negotiating position is hopelessly weak, not because free movement is particularly important to national politicians on the continent. On the contrary, EU migrants have always been poorly represented democratically, having no right to vote in national elections where they live no matter how many years they live there.

  • What I assert is – with evidence from 2004 to 2011, that EU countries all had their own individual policies, some required visas, some imposed controls for 2 years, others 7, some had quotas. Its simply not true that the EU has in the last 20 years treated free movement as paramount. Tactically the EU may now say that if we want single market membership we need to accept free movement. But they can say that now, not because it is set in stone anywhere, but because they can take almost any negotiating position they like. So far all we managed to threaten in return is defence cooperation. Threatening to withdraw defence cooperation is pretty insulting to countries like Poland and Czech Republic whose airmen fought in the Battle of Britain. All May is doing at the moment is posturing to keep her MPs onside – whist burning all of our goodwill on the continent.

  • Yes but it has been partially suspended when it suited individual countries, for long periods. There are precedents.

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