Thursday 24 October 2019

'There is huge pressure on Johnson to do deal' - Hogan

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan believes the next week will be a key for Boris Johnson and Brexit, writes Ailish O'Hora

Phil Hogan. Pic: Naoise Culhane
Phil Hogan. Pic: Naoise Culhane

Ailish O'Hora

Newly-appointed EU Commissioner Phil Hogan believes inroads could be made as early this week in Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whom Commissioner Hogan has criticised in the past for his attitude towards Brexit negotiations, is set to meet outgoing EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tomorrow in Luxembourg and is also under pressure to secure a deal.

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But, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, Hogan says he sees a chink of light in negotiations and that while Johnson has a "theatrical way of behaving", beneath that he has ideas on how things can be moved on.

"I think there's huge pressure on Johnson to do a deal in order to ensure he remains prime minister. If he doesn't, he could have a motion of no confidence in him. I hope in the next week that he and his team will start to engage constructively rather than dealing with issues that are of a low-hanging fruit variety, the substantive priorities as in the Good Friday Agreement, citizens' rights and the financial settlement.

"I believe that he wants to end up with a deal rather than a no-deal scenario.

"I think the penny has dropped on the UK side that the consequences of a no-deal would not be good for the UK or Ireland, or indeed, the European Union.

"Certainly, Mr Johnson's visit to Ireland last Monday indicates he wants a deal." Mr Hogan added.

Even if there is a hard Brexit, it will be Hogan's job to negotiate a trade deal with the UK after the fact.

While Hogan will live in Brussels for the next five years as EU Trade Commissioner, he still takes a keen interest in domestic politics.

And the former Fine Gael environment minister believes the Irish people understand the extent of the threat of Brexit to the Irish economy, and realise the need for a prudent budget ahead of an upcoming election.

"I think people don't want to go back to the irresponsible policies of the past, the spendthrift policies.

"The Irish people are not stupid, they understand that we have a difficulty and like any family, we have to go through a period of entrenchment. We are after going through a horrendous time when 250,000 jobs were lost," he said.

And while he believes that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is doing a good job, he said that this Government's work will be defined, either in a positive or a negative way, by Brexit.

"I believe that the spotlight now will be on his [Varadkar's] leadership in relation to Brexit. He has wonderful connections in the EU and is using them to the maximum. He and the Tanaiste [Simon Coveney] are a successful team working in order to have a soft-landing for the Irish economy."

Hogan, who was previously Agriculture Commissioner, added that he has sympathy for the beef farming community who are going through their worst crisis in 40 years and believes the industry will have to give.

"Farmers are certainly going through a very hard time in the beef sector and this is why I helped to provide up to €100m in a financial support package for farmers. It a major opportunity to get some income for the families involved in the sector when they need it," he said.

"The meat industry has to look at improving the prices because they are 14c a kilogramme behind the EU average here in Ireland. There's obviously a clear problem here with the divergence in price. This is not acceptable," he added.

Sunday Independent

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