UK needs to ‘climb down from Brexit barricades’, Hogan says

EU Commissioner tells Seanad Brexit irreversible and Britian must ‘soften’ its stance

European Commissioner Phil Hogan: ‘We must be on our guard.’ File photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

European Commissioner Phil Hogan: ‘We must be on our guard.’ File photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

 

EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan has called on the UK to “climb down from the barricades” and find a Brexit solution in the best interests of its people.

In an address to the Seanad Mr Hogan said the UK “wants to keep its red lines, understands that a free trade agreement means a hard border, and is trying to escape by ‘inventing’ a new type of border.

“It says a soft border can be assured - even in a free trade agreement - through new customs practices and modern technology, what I have called a cyber border,” he told Senators.

“The EU has looked at the UK’s ideas; is not convinced that they can give us the border security we need, within the Brexit timescale; and has sent the UK back to the drawing board. Meanwhile it insists on the back-stop of a customs union for the whole island.”

He said British prime minister Theresa May wants the UK “to retain many of the advantages it gains from EU membership. She has given us a long list of what the UK wants to keep. A very long list.

“On the other hand, she maintains her red lines.”

Softening

But said future discussions would show how badly the UK wanted this. “ And by future discussions, I don’t just mean Brussels-London, I mean also the London-London discussions. Indeed, I would say that London-London is the more critical.”

The former Fine Gael minister said some form of customs arrangement and the softening of Britain’s red lines “must be in the best interest of all concerned”.

He added: “Or do the Brexiteers want to carry on the civil war until there’s not a building left standing on the other side? Is this the sort of victory they seek? If so, they don’t only endanger the UK’s economy but its society also.”

Stressing that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Government, supported by the EU, “have made it clear that they are not fudgers”, he said the UK “has to face up to the fact that decision time is here”.

He described comments by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg on Irish beef as both unhelpful and irresponsible.

Mr Rees-Mogg said the Irish agriculture industry would be in serious trouble if the UK applied the common external tariff on Irish beef and he believed Britain was in a very strong negotiating position because the EU did not want to sacrifice the Irish economy on the altar of EU ideology.

Irreversible

Mr Hogan said that instead of “costly immoderate ideology”, the EU and UK should “compare and honestly weigh the costs and benefits of a free trade agreement versus a customs union; this is a moment for balanced judgement”.

He said “now that Brexit is irreversible, such a review would be the statesmanlike option”.

Mr Hogan also warned of the dangers of fake news . “The way in which what we used to call tall stories and gossip no longer goes from mouth to mouth but from one set of fingers to a million sets of eyes, with a tap on the keyboard. Brexit shows us how vulnerable we are.”

He said hat was why the commission is alerting member states to the dangers, “advising them to set up an infrastructure that can counter the lies and half-truths”.

He said it was particularly urgent and significant given next year’s European Parliament elections. “We must be on our guard,” he said.