EU commissioner welcomes British election so Theresa May can deal with Tory ‘loonies’

Phil Hogan also criticises Daily Mail for ‘enemies of the people’ headline

EU commissioner Phil Hogan described Brexit as an “error of judgment” by the British people. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

EU commissioner Phil Hogan described Brexit as an “error of judgment” by the British people. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

A Conservative victory in the British general election would allow prime minister Theresa May see off the “loony voices” in her own party, EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan has said.

Mr Hogan expressed a belief that if, as the polls suggest, Ms May emerges with a larger majority than the 17 seats she has now, she will be able to take a more pragmatic stance in the Brexit negotiations.

He described Brexit as an “error of judgment” by the British people and he blamed it on the “anti-EU, right-wing media campaign in the UK” which had been “spinning false and misleading information about the EU for more than 40 years”.

He told the IFA Brexit forum in Co Kildare: “If you continue telling your children for 40 years that they are no good and that Brussels is your problem, you can expect nothing other than a negative result and that is what has happened.”

‘Tory press’

He singled out the Daily Mail headline “Enemies of the People” (referring to the High Court of England and Wales ruling that the UK government would require the consent of parliament to give notice of Brexit) as an example of the “Tory press which can always be relied on to generate loud and abrasive headlines” on the issue of the EU.

But the reality of Brexit was beginning to bite, he told more than 600 farmers assembled at Goffs in Co Kildare. “The implications and costs of such scenarios are now, finally, being understood better and more widely.”

Mr Hogan expressed a hope that Britain would not leave the customs union as Ms May has suggested and that “common sense will prevail”.

He said the British were already experiencing difficulties in trying to strike separate trade deals with countries around the world.

“They have been told to go and ‘wait until we are finished with the European Union first’,” Mr Hogan suggested.

He dismissed as “fanciful” the suggestion by UK trade secretary Liam Fox that Britain could do deals with its former colonies such as India, the so-called Empire 2.0 strategy.

When Ms May visited India she was asked to grant 20,000 visas in return for a trade deal. “That doesn’t indicate that it is in line with her agenda of taking back control,” Mr Hogan stated.

‘Bloodbath’ over trade

Mr Hogan suggested that British consumers would not accept lower food standards as a result of being out of the EU. “Would they accept hormone beef or chlorine chicken on the supermarket shelves? I seriously doubt it.”

He added: “There may yet be a bloodbath over these issues. Meanwhile in the EU we can rest easy in the knowledge that our negotiating weight in trade deals means that our partners rise to our standards, rather than us lowering to theirs.”

Mr Hogan described the notion of a bilateral deal between Ireland and the UK as a “non-starter”.

Polls suggest that Britain’s prime minister Theresa May will emerge with a larger majority than the 17 seats she has now. Photograph: Reuters/Chris Radburn
Polls suggest that Britain’s prime minister Theresa May will emerge with a larger majority than the 17 seats she has now. Photograph: Reuters/Chris Radburn

Preserving the single market is an “absolute priority” for Ireland and the EU. “If the UK are leaving the single market, how in the name of God can we [Ireland] do a deal with someone who is leaving?”

He welcomed Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s attempts to make an alliance with the Netherlands and Denmark in the Brexit negotiations, both countries being, like Ireland, heavily dependent on British markets.

Tariff free relationship

He anticipated a tariff-free transition period for the UK which will allow continued access to the British markets for Irish farmers as they are now.

He said it would be in everyone’s interest if there was a “duty-free, tariff-free” relationship between the EU and the UK.

When asked afterwards if his comments about the British general election could be construed as interference by the EU Commission in a foreign election, Mr Hogan replied: “Do you have another result in mind? I’m expressing a view on politics all my life and not just confined to Ireland.

“If the circumstances arise where there is a Tory majority that is substantial, all I am saying is that this has potential possibilities for Europe and for Ireland to do a more pragmatic deal and give us more room for flexibility.”