Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Brexit blow: Phil Hogan’s EU resignation is big trade deal setback – ‘Bad news’ for UK

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Mr Hogan stepped down yesterday after a week of pressure following his attendance at a social event which contravened coronavirus regulations agreed the day before by Micheal Martin’s government – in a scandal which was quickly dubbed “golfgate”. The Fine Gael party member had initially refused to resign, but with Taoiseach Mr Martin and his predecessor Leo Varakar calling for him to quit, it appears he lost the support of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and was left with little option.

Ray Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, told Express.co.uk it was not just Dublin that would feel the impact.

He explained: “The resignation of Hogan is also bad news for the UK.

“Despite the bluster, Hogan was an ally of a reasonable Brexit deal.

“If the French get their hands on the trade job, it is doubtful their nominee would want to be as helpful to London.”

Mr Hogan had been keen to see that a deal was reached in the ongoing trade negotiations, and would have been a “benign influence” in the commission, Mr Bassett said.

He added: “He was strongly in support of liberal trade arrangements.

“His replacement may be more protectionist and possibly want to punish Britain for Brexit.

“While the Irish Government may feel vindicated by Hogan’s resignation, the outcome may have longer term negative consequences.”

There had been a certain degree of inevitability about last night’s outcome, admitted Mr Bassett.

He said: “Once the Irish Government made it clear that they wanted Hogan to resign, then it became very difficult for Ursula von der Leyen to keep him.

“Hogan made a big mistake in breaking the COVID-19 guidelines but there is a danger now that the trade position in Brussels could be lost to Ireland at a key time.

“There is no guarantee that Hogan’s replacement as Irish Commissioner will be given this important portfolio. That would be a self-inflicted injury.”

In a statement issued last night, Mr Hogan said: “It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work as an EU Commissioner and would undermine my work in the key months ahead.

“I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland – the country that I have been so proud to represent as a public servant for most of my adult life – caused such concern, unease and upset.”

Mr Hogan’s resignation, less than a year into his term in trade and six years after he was appointed Agriculture Commissioner, means Ireland will have to nominate a new representative to the commission.

Potential nominees include Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, Mairead McGuinness, a vice president of the European Parliament, and Richard Bruton, an experienced former minister who missed out on a cabinet post in June.

In a joint statement issued after the news broke, Mr Martin, Mr Varadkar and coalition partner and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said Mr Hogan’s decision was the “correct course of action”.

Mr Martin subsequently told RTE Mr Hogan had “served Europe and Ireland with distinction”.

Frau von der Leyen said: “I am very grateful to him for his tireless work as a Trade Commissioner since the start of this mandate and for his successful term as Commissioner in charge of Agriculture in the previous College.”

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