Monday 16 July 2018

How Hogan has a place on London's ever-growing list of Brexit enemies

Phil Hogan is highly rated in Brussels as a seasoned politician who has grasped the essentials of how the EU machine functions. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
Phil Hogan is highly rated in Brussels as a seasoned politician who has grasped the essentials of how the EU machine functions. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
John Downing

John Downing

It now seems like something from another lifetime. But back in April, May and June 2016, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan was seen as something of a "Brussels secret weapon" in the campaign to get farmers across the UK to vote remain.

Mr Hogan is highly rated in Brussels as a seasoned politician who has grasped the essentials of how the EU machine functions.

His words pack a punch and his comments are widely reported across the British media which has increased its presence in Brussels due to the ongoing Brexit talks.

His stance has attracted unfavourable comment in the UK media. He is undoubtedly on London's list of Brexit enemies in Brussels.

On Tuesday night in Brussels he upped the ante again, warning that Britain's behaviour, over five bouts of Brexit negotiations, had brought the process "to the edge of a cliff".

A UK government spokesman said: "This assessment is completely false. Addressing the unique circumstances of the Northern Ireland and Ireland Border is a top priority for the UK government in the Brexit negotiations and we have made good progress on this issue - as Mr Barnier has said."

During the referendum campaign, while other EU commissioners and bureaucrats had been kept at home, Mr Hogan played a high-profile role on the canvass trail for more than two months.

Read More: Brexit stand-off a horror show, warn civil servants

However, his efforts may not have met with total success as large numbers of farmers also voted leave on June 23, 2016.

There are various polls which suggest that some 44pc of farmers voted remain, apparently from the mainstream sectors which received most from the EU farm budget controlled by Mr Hogan and which still accounts for 40pc of Brussels' spending. However, many people will also see that this outcome said as much about disenchantment in rural England as anything else. After all Wales, which benefited hugely from EU farm, regional and social funds, also voted 52pc to 48pc for leave, an outcome which mirrored the overall UK outcome.

But let's not digress too far. Back in early summer 2016 Commissioner Hogan travelled to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, publicly arguing that EU policies were in farmers' interests. Some Brussels diplomats believed that Mr Hogan "passed as not especially foreign" among British voters - especially outside of the big metropolitan centres.

One British source suggested that only an Irish or Dutch person would be accepted in giving an opinion on the referendum. It was notable that even the then-US president, Barack Obama, was rebuffed for his intervention. Spool on just 16 months and you get a different story. Phil Hogan has become hugely critical of the British government's diffuse and incoherent approach to Brexit. In January he publicly warned his old boss, Enda Kenny, and his officials they were too close to London.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business