Ireland’s Phil Hogan is set to be the European Union’s next trade commissioner, an appointment that puts the bloc’s relationship with the UK right at the heart of policy making.
Hogan, an outspoken critic of Brexit and the British government’s approach to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, was nominated by incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Appointing Hogan to run EU trade talks with post-Brexit Britain suggests von der Leyen considers forging relations with its departing member a priority for the five years of her mandate.
He will work alongside Sabine Weyand, who recently became the most senior civil servant in the commission’s trade department after heading up the EU’s Brexit negotiating team.
“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 the UK.
Hogan’s promotion from agriculture commissioner sends a message of solidarity to the Irish government at a time when Dublin is under pressure to compromise with the UK over its withdrawal deal with the EU.
Any concessions over the next two months could determine whether or not Britain leaves the bloc in an orderly or disorderly way and have repercussions for the two sides’ relations for years to come.
If Brexit can be managed in a smooth fashion, the UK government will know that Hogan will be constructive in establishing a productive relationship: Ireland needs to maintain close trading ties with post-Brexit Britain more than any other country.
“Brexit, should it happen, is not the end of something but the beginning of a future relationship,” von der Leyen said.
Known as ‘Big Phil’ at home because of his height, Hogan was appointed commissioner for agriculture in 2014 — considered a plum role for any Irish official. In that role, he has frequently lambasted the UK’s approach to Brexit, calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “get real” and stop gambling with Ireland’s peace process.