Britain’s ‘tough-guy approach’ to Brexit criticised by Phil Hogan

‘We are now so close to the cliff edge of a hard Brexit ... we can see the drop’ - Ireland’s EU Commissioner

Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Developmenton, said: “What becomes more obvious day-by-day is that the Brexiteers are hooked on brinkmanship – and have been since the beginning”. File photograph: Alan Betson

Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Developmenton, said: “What becomes more obvious day-by-day is that the Brexiteers are hooked on brinkmanship – and have been since the beginning”. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

Britain’s so-called Brexiteers are “hooked on brinkmanship” and their only approach is “the tough-guy approach”, Ireland’s EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has said.

Mr Hogan said “unfortunately, we are now so close to the cliff edge of a hard Brexit that we can see the drop right in front of our feet.”

Speaking at the launch of RTÉ Europe Editor Tony Connelly’s new book, Brexit and Ireland: the Dangers, the Opportunities and the Inside Story of the Irish Response, in Brussels on Tuesday night he warned: “What becomes more obvious day-by-day is that the Brexiteers are hooked on brinkmanship – and have been since the beginning.  Unfortunately, their only approach is the tough-guy approach.  

“No matter what Brussels says or does, no matter what business in the EU says or does, no matter how many companies announce plans to move workers from the UK to new EU headquarters, the hardliners cannot get out of their head the idea that if they bully their way towards the wire, the ‘Union’s nerve will crack’.

“They cannot get it into their head that this is not how the European Union works.

“At a time when all the talent and energy of British politicians should be focused on delivering a good result in the London-Brussels negotiation, the unfortunate reality is that the London-London negotiation is still raging - and if anything, intensifying,” he added.

“We have now missed the October deadline for moving to the next phase of negotiations. Only serious engagement and realism can deliver an agreement to move forward by December.

“We have to hope that between now and December another voice will be heard in London, and that ‘Managed Brexit’ will re-emerge as a credible option.”

Summit

Mr Hogan was speaking ahead of a two-day European Union summit which begins on Thursday in Brussels.

There will be a discussion on Brexit on Friday morning and the EU 27 countries will endorse their Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s approach, confirming his assessment that there has as yet not been ”sufficient progress” on the three priority “divorce” issues to move to the next phase of discussions with the UK. 

And, determined to show that it is not Brussels that is dragging its heels in the talks, the leaders will give Mr Barnier a mandate for internal discussions to prepare new negotiating guidelines for the next stage of talks, which are likely to start in December.

Although British prime minister Theresa May will address fellow leaders on Thursday evening over dinner she is not expected to spring any new concessions – “there will be no coup de theatre”, was how one diplomat put it.

The Thursday discussion will focus on three areas: the migration crisis, particularly the need to increase funding to African countries to help stem the flood of refugees, the digital agenda, including taxation, and co-operation on security and defence.

Digital taxation

Ireland will make common cause on digital taxation with a number of member states who want to link EU taxation of digital companies to moves by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development expected next spring. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will argue against French and Commission calls for specific EU measures, making the case that taxing the giant digital companies is something that can only be done on a global basis. Some 12 states are expected to back him.

 The leaders will endorse foreign ministers’ opposition to President Donald Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear agreement and their ramping up again of sanctions against nuclear rogue state North Korea.

Meanwhile, European Council president Donald Tusk’s “leaders’ agenda” points the way forward for EU reform over the next few years. In the letter to EU leaders, Mr Tusk urges them to build on the unity achieved in the last year and argues that they can only bring the union forward if they, as the leaders at the European Council, ensure they are the ones running the ship and their decisions are actually implemented.

A new approach to decisionmaking in the union, and who makes the decisions, he seems to be saying, is as necessary as an ambitious programme of reform. That may require, he says, more regular leaders’ meetings and a more political approach at those meetings  - “ensuring real progress, will require that you are ready to overcome deadlocks in the Council of Ministers”.

“With this in mind I will propose a number of debates to cut the Gordian knot on the most sensitive issues such as migration or EMU reform.”