Von der Leyen nominates Brexit critic as next EU trade negotiator

Phil Hogan, an Ireland politician who has criticized Boris Johnson and Brexit, was nominated Tuesday by the incoming European Commission president as the body’s next trade commissioner.

Phil Hogan, shown here during a July meeting in Brussels, was nominated Tuesday as the next European Union trade negotiator. Photo by Aris Oikonomou

Ursula von der Leyen, who will soon become the first woman to lead the European Commission, called Hogan a strong and just negotiator and said his nomination was not a message to Britain.

“He will be a very fair but determined negotiator,” von der Leyen said. “It is very important to have a very good free-trade agreement” with Britain.

While serving as the European Union’s agriculture commissioner, Hogan bashed Britain’s handling of Brexit and in August accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of risking the Ireland peace process.

Hogan, who also disapproved of the original Brexit deal proposed by former Prime Minister Theresa May, called on Britain to ease off its demands and to start from the beginning in dealing with its border plan with Ireland.

Some suggested the selection of Hogan would be a net positive to Britain, though, because of his strong relationship with Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who has told Johnson Ireland would act as Britain’s closest ally in trade talks.

“Phil Hogan’s appointment as EU Trade Commissioner is a very positive development for Ireland,” Varadkar said in a series of tweets supporting the nomination. “We sought a major economic brief in the new European Commission, and I am very satisfied that we have secured it.
“He will work for Europe as a whole, but it’s a definite advantage to have an Irish person in charge of this crucial brief over the next five years. He will take the lead on the EU’s post-Brexit trade deal with (Britain), as well as Mercosur and trading relations with India, U.S. and China,” Varadkar said.

Von der Leyen said while Brexit is not something the European Union prefers, it is prepared to make the best of the situation.

“We are still in a difficult process,” von der Leyen said. “We never wanted (Brexit) but we respect the decision. (Brexit) is not the end of something but it’s the beginning of a future relationship.”

ByClyde Hughes