Theresa May is taking personal control of EU withdrawal negotiations, with new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab “deputising” for her in talks.
But senior politicians here remain to be convinced the UK prime minister‘s bid to take back control will yield any real progress.
Mrs May announced she would be front and centre of talks with Brussels alongside Olly Robbins, the UK‘s most senior and most trusted civil servant on Brexit, effectively sidelining Mr Raab.
On one of his first outings with the national press, Mr Raab triggered shockwaves last weekend when he suggested the UK could renege on paying its outstanding financial bill for commitments made in the EU over the past 45 years of membership.
He is now in charge of domestic preparations, no-deal planning and legislation.
His predecessor David Davis had already been effectively stood down at the start of the year, and talks have already been conducted by Mr Robbins.
One senior source told the Irish Independent: “I‘m not sure it makes much of a difference, because before Raab, Robbins was handling everything anyway, but it looks like her way of reinforcing both Ollie Robbins and her roles as leading the talks.
“Raab is forced to support her and not ‘get notions‘ that he‘s above Ollie Robbins.”
Mr Raab insisted he would not “wallow in pessimism” about the Brexit process as Eurosceptics voiced their concerns about his department being sidelined by No 10. The Brexit secretary played down the “shifting of the Whitehall deckchairs” and insisted the UK would not “cower” in talks with Brussels following concerns that a “no-deal” Brexit was becoming more likely.
He repeated his warning the UK could withhold payment of its £39bn “divorce bill” if the EU fails to reach agreement on its future trade relationship.
“There must be a firm commitment in the withdrawal agreement requiring the framework for the future relationship to be translated into legal text as soon as possible,” Mr Raab told MPs.
The one possible upside for Ireland is that there will be less confusion and less damage to already very fragile levels of diplomacy.
“One of the problems recently has been the mixed messages and positions from London so anything that negates that is good,” said another source.
It came as Britain set out how it plans to keep European Union laws during its transition from the EU after next March.
It said elements of the 1972 laws which make Britain a member of the bloc would need to be saved, which would include a role for the European Court of Justice.
The UK government issued a policy document on legislation it says is needed to implement the terms of any final exit deal negotiated between London and Brussels, once it has been approved in principle by parliament.
The document is the most clear presentation yet of how the UK government intends the relationship between Britain and the EU to be little changed during the so-called implementation period until December 2020.
It sets out a continuing role for the ECJ throughout the transition and for EU laws still to apply.
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach is continuing his whistle-stop tour of European capitals in a bid to re-energise support for Ireland‘s Brexit conundrum.
He joined Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Prime Minister Viorica Dancila in Bucharest yesterday.
Mr Varadkar said his preference would be for the UK to request an extension of the Brexit talks until a proper deal was hammered out.
He said extending the March timeline would be “preferable” if the UK continues to career towards the cliff edge.
But he warned that any such slippage on the deadline could only be entertained if the UK requests it, and the government there manages to speak with a unified position on Brexit.
President Iohannis reiterated his country‘s acknowledgement of the difficulties that arise for Ireland over the Border.