Hogan accuses DUP of ‘political hypocrisy’ over NI tariffs plan
Commissioner says proposal likely to breach WTO rules
European commissioner for agriculture Phil Hogan . Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan has accused Democratic Unionists of “political hypocrisy” in accepting the UK government’s recent plan for tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which envisages a different tariff regime for Northern Ireland.
Speaking at a conference on global trade in Dublin, Commissioner Hogan described the UK’s plan as a “political stunt” designed to change the news cycle in the UK and weaken EU unity on the Irish backstop.
He also claimed the proposals, which would seek to preserve tariff-free trade between the Republic and Northern Ireland while imposing punitive tariffs on Irish food products entering Britain, were likely breach World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
He criticised the Democratic Unionist Party, which he said had railed against any threat to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations, but appeared to have no difficulty in accepting a different tariff regime for the North.
“Naked hypocrisy would be an understatement for what I think about that,” he said.
Mr Hogan said the EU’s resolve on the issue of the backstop would not buckle and that “solidarity behind Ireland remains rock solid, steadfast, and unwavering.”
While the threat of an accidental no-deal was still possible, he welcomed recent moves by the British Parliament not to allow this “nightmare” to happen.
“One of the chief threats hanging over the Brexit talks has gone,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal’s “Navigating Global Trade” conference in the RDS in Dublin.
“No-deal will no longer be used as negotiating leverage, and that is to be welcomed. It should lead to a more mature final discussion between the UK and the EU,” he said.
“In relation to what comes next, we have to wait to see what the House of Commons decides. But we can say with confidence that the only way for Britain to leave the EU will be with an agreement,” he said.
Mr Hogan said the EU would be willing to discuss an extension to the March 29th exit date, which is just two weeks away.
However, he said he personally favoured a short extension, noting a short period of team was the best way of concentrating minds in the House of Commons.
He also insisted there had to be a basis for the extension, in other words a plan to break the current impasse.
Mr Hogan appeared to rule out the possibility of the UK being afforded an extension of two years. “That would be very unwelcome at this stage because if you kick the can down the road for another two years it does little to alleviate the uncertainty,” he said.
“The sooner we have this resolved in whatever way it’s going to be the sooner we can get on with measures for dealing with it,” he said.
In his speech, he described Brexit as the single most disruptive shock to Irish trade in this or any generation.
“It is very important to recognise that while Brexit is unquestionably a huge challenge, the European Commission has form in responding both quickly and decisively to huge challenges,” he said.
“This is not the first time Irish agriculture has faced a risk of large proportions: in my political lifetime we have had to deal with BSE, foot and mouth, and the recent markets crisis arising from the Russian embargo,” he added.
Commissioner Hogan claimed the €12 billion hole left in the EU budget from the UK’s departure would not result in a reduction of the single payment to farmers here.