Patience with Britain ‘wearing out’ over Border solution – Hogan

Commissioner says May’s government lacks ‘coherent position’ on Brexit deal ahead of key summit

Phil Hogan: ‘I have never seen such solidarity in the Commission on any issue, as I have seen in relation to the problems that this can create for Ireland.’ File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Phil Hogan: ‘I have never seen such solidarity in the Commission on any issue, as I have seen in relation to the problems that this can create for Ireland.’ File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

Patience with the British Government is “wearing out” in Brussels over delays proposing solutions for how to avoid a hard border in Ireland, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has said.

The British Government do not have a “coherent position” on what kind of Brexit deal they want, which has posed problems for EU negotiators, Mr Hogan told journalists in Brussels on Tuesday. The comments come ahead of a key European Council summit of EU leaders next week.

An initial deadline for the British government to make progress on how the Border “backstop” commitment would be achieved in time for the summit, is anticipated to be missed.

The backstop was a commitment given last December, that if there was no deal reached on how to avoid a hard border, there would be no divergence in customs and trade rules between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have said the backstop agreement would need to be “legally operable.”

No-deal situation

“If the United Kingdom continues the way they have been over the last number of months, without coming forward with proposals as promised, well then you’re facing the difficult situation of a no-deal,” Mr Hogan said.

October is the deadline to agree an overall Brexit deal, as the European Parliament will need time to approve it.

“We’re waiting for a long time for the United Kingdom to tell us precisely what they want out of these negotiations. . . They need to do so sooner rather than later, as time is getting short, and patience is wearing out,” Mr Hogan said.

There was a “good understanding” of the political problems UK prime minister Theresa May faces within her party, in trying to agree what relationship Britain will have with the EU after they leave, he said.

Mr Hogan said Ireland had achieved a “strong” position in the Brexit negotiations, aligning the other 26 Member States in making avoiding a hard border a necessity.

‘Solidarity

“I have never seen such solidarity in the Commission on any issue, as I have seen in relation to the problems that this can create for Ireland,” he said.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said his party would be “disappointed” if the Irish Government failed to secure progress on the Border backstop at the June summit.

“In an 11th hour negotiation, pressure would come on the Irish Government to accept a political statement”, rather than a legal text, he said. A political commitment to avoid a hard border would hold “zero value,” and would be a “major win” for British negotiators, Mr Carthy said.

Charles Tannock, a pro-remain Conservative Party MEP, said the final Brexit agreement on the Border would have to be “watertight.” Mr Tannock warned there was a danger if the agreement was unpalatable to hard Brexiteers, some of “the crazies” in the Conservative Party would seek to remove Ms May and “tear up” the commitments after Brexit.

Some quarters of the Conservative Party held the view Ireland was still akin to a “vassal state” that should follow the will of Britain, he told a media briefing of Irish journalists.