Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, has delivered a stinging criticism of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his handling of Brexit, particularly the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.
Commissioner Hogan reiterated the EU’s commitment to the backstop and the withdrawal agreement that was negotiated between Europe and the previous UK government under Theresa May.
Hogan was speaking today, Wednesday, August 21, at the Thomas D’Arcy McGee School Politicians Forum in Carlingford, Co. Louth.
“From the EU side, nothing has changed. We will hold the line. We have made detailed contingency plans for every outcome and we will not be found wanting. Contrary to what the UK government may wish, the EU will not buckle,” insisted the commissioner.
Boris Johnson has stacked his cabinet with a ‘hard Brexit dream team’ and the new Prime Minister has made it clear that he is ready to leave the EU without a deal, if he doesn’t get a new deal that removes the backstop.
“If it opts for a hard Brexit, the UK will be harming itself. Yes, it will mean pain for everyone, but the worst pain will be felt by the people of the UK,” he argued.
Commissioner Hogan claimed that Johnson – “like both his predecessors” – was putting the interests of the Conservative Party ahead of the interests of his country.
“The new UK government needs to get real about the importance of the backstop and what it represents. The backstop, very simply, recognises the unique difficulties Brexit poses for the island of Ireland,” the commissioner highlighted.
Both sides made a commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The backstop is the only means identified so far by both parties to honour this commitment.
He continued: “Gambling with peace and the Good Friday Agreement is not good politics. We need to put the politics of blame aside and focus on finding solutions to help overcome the difficulties that may arise in people’s lives as a result of these negotiations.”
Responding to a letter sent by Johnson to European officials, Commissioner Hogan said the EU shares the prime minister’s commitment to an orderly Brexit and upholding the Good Friday Agreement, but regretted the lack of a forthcoming alternative from the UK to replace the backstop.
“Prime Minister Johnson’s proposal does not provide any such guarantees. His letter recognises that there is no guarantee that such arrangements will be in place by the end of the transitional period,” argued the commissioner.
The commission will analyse any legally operable UK ideas that are compatible with the existing withdrawal agreement. We are of course ready to rework the political declaration, in line with the European Council guidelines.
He warned that: “If the UK fails to prevent a crash-out Brexit, it should be under no illusion regarding the foul atmosphere they will create with their EU partners and the serious consequences this will have for negotiating any future trade agreement.”
Commissioner Hogan concluded: “The UK government needs to take responsibility for its choices before it is too late.”