Saturday 24 March 2018

EU sympathy over Brexit no guarantee of help, says Hogan

Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Collins
Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Collins
John Downing

John Downing

EU sympathy for Ireland's unique Brexit difficulties does not mean this country can get the concessions it needs from the European partners, Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan has warned.

"The sympathy and understanding for Ireland's position should not be mistaken for sympathy and understanding for any solutions proposed," he said.

The commissioner stressed Ireland must identify realistic solutions to the country's problems and lobby for support from the other 26 member states.

Mr Hogan also said the Irish Government urgently needed to shore up old EU alliances and build new ones. He suggests this applied especially to the current EU president, Malta, and next three incumbents - Estonia, Austria and Bulgaria - who will have pivotal negotiating roles.

Speaking at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin, he said Brexit was a "hammer blow" for the Irish economy - but also a "wake-up" call for the EU.

Mr Hogan said all mainstream politicians must challenge "fact-free Europhobic populism" and focus on the proven benefits of EU membership for the vast bulk of citizens.

He said the ground-breaking EU Maastricht Treaty, which framed the single currency, was signed 25 years ago this month.

He brushed aside suggestions by a minority of commentators that Ireland should consider leaving the EU, pointing out the late TK Whitaker was among those who saw membership was Ireland's "safest and best bet".

Mr Hogan said Brexit was an "avoidable calamity" but also the product of decades of the EU being vilified in Britain. He hoped the Brexit fallout could be harnessed to counter anti-EU rhetoric which masked racism and xenophobia.

Ireland must face the challenge of the fallout with political unity. "Brexit came as a hammer blow, and while Ireland finds itself in an invidious position, it is taking to the challenge with 'steel in its spine'. If ever there was a time for all politicians and parties to put on the 'green jersey,' this is it," he said.

Mr Hogan repeated his view that a 'hard Brexit' was a real prospect. He noted the Department of Finance estimated a hard Brexit could result in a 30pc drop in UK exports, adding €20bn to the national debt over the next decade, risking 40,000 job losses.

Mr Hogan also stressed that the EU authorities and all mainstream political parties must face the new Euroscepticism.

"In the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Greece and Italy, political parties that are at best Eurosceptic and at worst Euro-hostile are gaining ground. And we should not naively believe that Ireland is immune," he warned.

Irish Independent

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