Monday 23 September 2019

Bruiser Hogan sent in to cut Brexit deal

Trade Commissioner post will have major say on UK trade talks

Speaking out: Phil Hogan has been one of the UK’s biggest critics during the Brexit talks.
Photo: Reuters
Speaking out: Phil Hogan has been one of the UK’s biggest critics during the Brexit talks. Photo: Reuters

Kevin Doyle, Ciaran Moran and Cormac McQuinn

Ireland is set to be handed one of the top jobs in the European Commission to give it a major influence on future trade talks with the UK.

Phil Hogan is in line to be appointed to the position of Trade Commissioner, a job that will put him at the centre of negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and UK.

The appointment will be seen as evidence the EU is standing firmly behind Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit.

Mr Hogan has been one of the most vocal critics of the UK's tactics in the current Brexit negotiations, recently describing Prime Minister Boris Johnson as "unelected".

He has warned a no-deal Brexit will create a "foul atmosphere" with the EU that will have "serious consequences" for the UK's chances of a future trade deal.

Member states are still battling for key roles on the new commission ahead of a formal announcement by incoming president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on Tuesday.

There is still a chance she could reshuffle her plans before then, but a number of sources said Mr Hogan was the clear frontrunner for trade. His current agriculture portfolio is expected to go to Poland.

The Trade Commissioner is responsible for representing the EU at the World Trade Organisation and other international forums. And while they will not directly head up trade negotiations with the UK after Brexit, sources said the person would be a "central player" in the process.

Regardless of whether there is a Brexit deal, the EU expects talks on new trading arrangements to begin at some stage.

The Government made no secret of the fact it was lobbying for a significant job for Mr Hogan in the wake of Brexit.

Last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that everyone needed to be "realistic" about trade agreements.

"If the UK can negotiate a trade agreement with the EU or the US within three or four years they'll be breaking records," he said.

He pointed out that once a deal with the EU is done it has to be ratified by 29 parliaments - the remaining 27 EU member states, the European Parliament and Westminster.

"I was talking yesterday about Brexit and I was turning my attention to what the EU negotiating an FTA [free trade agreement] with the UK is going to take," he said.

"The amount of things we'll have to go through particularly if the UK - which seems to be going down this course of competition and non-alignment - that makes a trade deal much more difficult... it's such a complicated thing to do an FTA. The UK will not have an FTA with the EU or the US for many years to come."

Mr Varadkar's remarks came at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Co Wexford, where he said UK politics has been "very volatile".

He is to meet Mr Johnson for the first time since he became prime minister in Dublin on Monday, but does not expect there to be a breakthrough on Brexit at their meeting.

Mr Johnson's officials yesterday made the first detailed proposal for replacing the backstop during a meeting with EU figures in Brussels.

The plan involved an all-Ireland food standards zone which would be subject to reviews by Stormont.

However, it was quickly rebuffed on the grounds that it would leave the Republic at the mercy of politicians in the North. Despite this, it is expected that Mr Johnson will float the same proposal when he comes to Dublin.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar is under increasing pressure to outline what will happen at the Border in the event of no deal. Having said that checks may have to take place "near the Border", Mr Varadkar has refused to elaborate on what form they might take.

While customs checks and controls on goods and veterinary checks on animals will primarily take place at ports, factories and food-processing plants, the Irish Independent understands new facilities are also likely to be part of the plan. Talks between the Government and the European Commission are ongoing but it is likely to be the end of the month before full details are revealed.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday there would be a "grace period" for any changes made.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin warned the Government to be "absolutely honest" and "up-front" about plans for customs checks. He hit out at the Government, claiming it "hasn't been up-front about this from the beginning and it should have been".

He referred to an incident revealed by the Irish Independent in which Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Transport Minister Shane Ross were caught on tape discussing remarks where Mr Ross suggested there will be checks on goods.

Mr Coveney said at the time: "Once you start talking about checks anywhere near the Border, people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we'll be the Government that reintroduced a physical Border on the island of Ireland."

Irish Independent

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