Irish EU commissioner urges May rethink

Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan says the UK’s objectives “cannot be achieved on a wing and a prayer” European Commission

Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan says the UK’s objectives “cannot be achieved on a wing and a prayer” European Commission

Phil Hogan to call for a ‘softening of the red lines’ between Brexiters and remainers.

Ireland’s EU commissioner has urged Theresa May to face down the “immoderate ideology” of Brexiters and reconsider her position on remaining in a customs union with the EU.

Phil Hogan, the commissioner for agriculture, will tell the senate in the Irish parliament on Thursday that remarks by Jacob Rees-Mogg about Ireland’s beef trade with Britain were “unhelpful and irresponsible”.

Speaking earlier this week, Rees-Mogg said the UK was in a much stronger negotiating position than May would have parliament believe and called for her to be “much firmer and clearer” about the damage to the EU if Britain crashes out without a deal.

“If we were to apply the common external tariff on Irish beef, the Irish agricultural industry is in serious trouble. You’ve got to ask the EU: does it want to sacrifice the economy of Ireland on the altar of EU ideology? My guess is that the answer is no, and therefore we are in a very strong negotiating position,” he said. He added the government should abandon the customs partnership concept, declaring it “completely cretinous”.

Moment for balanced judgment

Hogan is expected to say on Thursday that such remarks highlight a continuing rift in London between Brexiters and remainers. He will say: “Both sides should compare and honestly weigh the costs and benefits of a free trade agreement versus a customs union. This is a moment for balanced judgment, not costly immoderate ideology. Some form of customs arrangement and softening of the red lines must be in the best interest of all concerned.”

He will say he recognises that the UK’s objective is to achieve a better future for its citizens, but that this “cannot be achieved on a wing and a prayer”. The commissioner will also confirm that the EU has “sent the UK back to the drawing board on the Irish border” and it must come up with new ideas before June.

His remarks come hours after Brexit secretary David Davis said he believed the Irish border conundrum would remain wrapped up in wider talks and would not be resolved until October. Hogan will warn that the June target set by the EU for fresh ideas on the border has not moved and has consequences. “No decision on the Irish border, no withdrawal treaty, no withdrawal treaty, no transition,” he will say.

His words chime with those of Michel Barnier last week, after proposals on the Irish border were comprehensively rejected by the EU.

By Lisa O'Carroll