UK lack of realism on Brexit becoming clear, says Hogan

Irish EU commissioner believes UK will find ‘huge gap between hope and experience’

EU commissioner Phil Hogan on UK: “You might say it doesn’t want to change its EU outfit, just its shoes.”   Photograph: Alan Betson s

EU commissioner Phil Hogan on UK: “You might say it doesn’t want to change its EU outfit, just its shoes.” Photograph: Alan Betson s


The opening of the next phase of Brexit negotiations, the negotiation of a free trade deal, is a point at which “the unknown element in Brexit” will be almost over.

But the UK has narrowed its options and the talks will expose the lack of realism and contradictions in its negotiating position, and the divisions within its ranks, Irish EU commissioner Phil Hogan warns.

“Stepping into Global Britain is stepping into a difficult world. And there will be a huge gap between hope and experience,” he warns.

The commissioner for agriculture and rural development will tell a Brussels Dublin City University (DCU) seminar on Monday morning , “an EU27 perspective on the future EU-UK relationship”, that “one thing we have already learned from Brexit is that the UK does not have a better idea: it does not have a replacement for the union as a way to improve the life quality of its citizens, its businesses, and its standing in the world.

“Yes, it will leave the union but it only wants to go some of the way towards leaving. We can see, now that things have become clearer, that there is a lot of the union that the UK wants to retain. An awful lot.

“You might say it doesn’t want to change its EU outfit, just its shoes.”

He will say that in other circumstances prime minister Theresa May’s recent Munich speech would have been seen as a “a strong argument for joining, not leaving, the EU”. But he warns that the “long game” played by the UK in the negotiations means that the talks on a political statement on the framework of the future relationship, due to be finalised by this autumn alongside the withdrawal agreement, may not answer all the questions about the shape of that relationship.

“We should not expect any rush to clarity on its [the UK’s] part. One result of this is that we can expect the uncertainties that characterise the UK’s position to continue.”

‘Friction and cost’

Mr Hogan will cast doubt on many of the assumptions that Ms May makes: “She is confident that regaining its power to negotiate trade agreements will enable the UK to achieve greater wellbeing for its people through wider trade. One hopes she is right for the sake of UK citizens.”

But “Global Britain will mean for the United Kingdom a return to medium-sized nation status. Yes it will regain the sovereignty to seek and strike agreements where it wants but with reduced bargaining power, reduced security of its markets and supply chains, and a friction and cost added to each trade shipment to the EU, its biggest trade partner.”

He warns that sterling could be very sensitive to new trade imbalances, that a deal with the US, particularly on agricultural products may not be as easy as expected, and that reliance on Commonwealth links will not be sufficient to compensate for a break with the EU – EU-UK trade is six times higher than UK exports to the 10 largest Commonwealth countries.

The UK may also be disappointed in its hope to roll forward on current terms for existing trade agreements with third countries.

Few options

On the outcome of talks, Mr Hogan warns that the EU is left with few options. “The EU might have its own preference between the three possible outcomes on a final agreement – free trade agreement, customs union, single market. We might have a preference but we have to realise that there is nothing we can do to realise it. The UK has decided that it wants a free trade agreement and that must be our focus.”

Of the divisions within Tory ranks, he says that “What I have called the London-London part of the negotiation has been a lively conversation between several opposing camps, although it is showing signs of calming recently.

“This may be because the different camps are preparing for battles to come, or are concentrating on other things like the local elections on May 3rd, or consider the clock to have been reset to December 2020 by the draft withdrawal treaty.

“It may be calmer but there does not seem to have been a reconciliation between the opposing camps.”