THE UK Government is only just starting to realise exactly how much “an act of great self-harm”, Brexit is, according to the civil servant leading Ireland’s EU negotiations.

John Callinan, said on Thursday that he can see his counterparts in London slowly starting to understand both the task in front of them and the damage last year’s vote to leave the EU will do to the country.

“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” Callinan, the second secretary-general at the Department of the Taoiseach, told a seminar organised by the trade unions Impact and Siptu.

Loading article content

Callinan also warned of splits and division in the Tory Cabinet, saying it was clear there was “no single, settled position” on Brexit.

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

Ireland are incredibly concerned by Britain’s decision to leave the EU. The implications of Brexit for the country are huge, and could impact on the border between the Republic and the north, the peace process and the Common Travel Area.

Callinan, who heads a team of officials from the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs charged with coordinating the Government’s Brexit response, said May was in charge of a situation in which “over simplistic views of what Brexit is and what it will do to Britain” were “front and centre” of public debate.

Outlining diplomatic efforts so far, he said there had been more than 400 engagements with EU counterparts on Brexit since last June’s referendum result.

Europe, he said, was responding positively to Ireland’s unwanted and unasked for predicament.

“It’s fair to say we’re seeing good support on that front,” he said.

He added that Dublin had to “navigate a delicate path” and could not be seen to be negotiating bilaterally with London, as that would 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 Irish government is satisfied their main concerns have been “strongly reflected” in May’s formal letter triggering article 50 and the EU’s initial negotiating guidelines, the official said.

“On the one hand, we are pleased that we have got to that point. On the other hand, in rugby parlance, it’s like winning the first lineout,” Callinan said.

“It’s a good start, but we’re at the very beginning of a difficult and challenging negotiation process.”

Responding to Callinan’s comments, SNP MP Stephen Gethins said it was proof that May and her ministers were not helping the situation.

“Brexit has been a mistake but the UK Government has been making things worse,” Gethins said. “Article 50 has formally been triggered, yet the UK Government is still unable to answer basic questions about a whole host of vital issues.

“Despite agreeing on a ‘UK-wide’ approach, Theresa May is continuing with a hard Tory Brexit which would take Scotland out of the EU against our will. “