Saturday 23 February 2019

Tories peddling 'toxic lie' on Brexit - EU hits back

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Reuters
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Reuters

Kevin Doyle and John Downing

Members of British Prime Minister Theresa May's party are peddling a "toxic lie", EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has said.

In a scathing attack on the UK political system, Mr Hogan also lashed out at Mrs May for her management of the Brexit crisis and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

He says it "beggars belief" that the prime minister is only now looking to consult with other parties in the House of Commons to try to find a consensus on the way forward.

"There is precious little time left to sort out this mess, and if a breakthrough is to happen, UK politicians need to get over their unwillingness to acknowledge certain uncomfortable truths," Mr Hogan writes in today's Irish Independent.

The strength of his attack on the key players in Westminster is likely to raise eyebrows in Brussels and Dublin.

Irish ministers have repeatedly been warned by Tánaiste Simon Coveney not to comment directly on the state of UK politics for fear of making negotiations even more difficult.

Mr Hogan is Ireland's nominee to the European Commission but is not answerable to the Government here.

He has called on Mrs May to roll back her red line of leaving the customs union, adding: "It is high time she marginalised the extremists within her own party."

Mrs May is spending the weekend discussing the crisis with European leaders ahead of presenting her latest Brexit vision on Monday.

Yesterday she took part in phone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Diplomats were left "rolling their eyes in disbelief" after phone calls from Mrs May in which she failed to change her demands, despite her Brexit plan being voted down this week.

Senior EU sources said Mrs May's unchanged stance was "greeted with incredulity".

"It was the same old story - the same set of demands - all unchanged despite the defeat," said the source.

Efforts to end the Brexit stalemate remained deadlocked last night, with neither Mrs May nor Mr Corbyn shifting from their entrenched positions. The opposition leader has refused to meet Mrs May unless she rules out the possibility of Britain leaving the EU with no deal.

At home, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has invited the leaders of other parties to a meeting next Tuesday to discuss preparations for a hard Brexit.

He is hoping they will agree to facilitate the easy passage of emergency legislation through the Dáil in March.

While the Government hopes the UK will find a way of agreeing to the Withdrawal Agreement, contingency plans for a worst-case scenario are now being actively implemented.

Mr Hogan says today that the only way of preventing the UK from crashing out of the EU is for more mainstream politicians in London "to drop the fanciful rhetoric and start speaking the plain, unvarnished truth".

"Then, at last, we might be able to find a way out of this messy situation," he says.

"Too many Conservative MPs continue to peddle the toxic lie that a hard Brexit would be the best outcome for the UK. It would not."

The former minister says Mr Corbyn's assertion that he could secure a better deal is also wrong.

Meanwhile, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mrs May was "senseless" to trigger Article 50 - the formal process of leaving the EU - before working out her strategy.

Speaking to the BBC's 'Inside Politics' show last night, Mr Ahern said "poor decisions had been made," which led the UK to the situation it finds itself in today.

He said Mrs May should now call a series of "indicative votes" in the House of Commons to see which Brexit option had most support - and that he believes this could be done in "four hours".

Asked if Ireland was ready for 'no deal', he replied: "I don't think anybody is prepared for a 'no-deal' Brexit."

Irish Independent

Also in Business