Ireland’s EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has launched a scathing attack on Boris Johnson, describing him as an “unelected” Prime Minister who is “gambling” with the peace process.
Mr Hogan has also warned that a hard Brexit will create a “foul atmosphere” with the EU that will have “serious consequences” for the UK’s chances of a future trade deal with the bloc.
The Agriculture Commissioner’s comments are a sharp escalation in the EU’s criticism of Mr Johnson’s demand that the backstop be removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Mr Hogan said the EU would “not buckle” in the face of pressure from the UK government.
Mr Hogan, who was speaking in Carlingford on Wednesday morning, said that Mr Johnson has “stacked his cabinet with a ‘Hard Brexit Dream Team’” and accused him of putting party interests above the UK’s. He said that people in the UK would suffer most from a hard Brexit and that the Prime Minister’s letter to the EU on Monday provided no concrete alternatives to the backstop.
In speaking points for his speech at the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School, Mr Hogan is quoted as saying: “If the UK fails to prevent a crash-out Brexit they 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.
“The UK continues to negotiate based on its experience of being an EU member. This misses the point completely: from the moment the UK came back to Brussels with the infamous red lines, the EU has negotiated on the basis of the UK opting for third country status.
“The UK government needs to take responsibility for its choices before it is too late. Prime Minister Johnson’s hero is Winston Churchill and he seems to view himself as a modern day Churchill.
“However, in the event of a no deal Brexit, the UK government’s only Churchilian legacy will be –‘never have so few done so much damage to so many’.”
Mr Hogan, a close ally of European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, said Mr Johnson’s claim that the backstop is anti-democratic “seems strange” as it is “coming from an unelected prime minister” who previously voted in favour of the withdrawal deal in the House of Commons.
“We should recall that the backstop was agreed by a Prime Minister who was democratically elected,” he said.
Mr Hogan said the UK needed to “get real” about the importance of the backstop. He said that both sides had made a commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and the backstop is the “only means identified so far by both parties to honour this agreement”. He said it was not anti-democratic, but “a necessary, legally operative solution built into the Withdrawal Agreement”.
In a direct response to Mr Johnson’s assertion in his letter on Monday that the backstop risks weakening the “delicate balance” of the Belfast Agreement, Mr Hogan said “gambling with peace and the Good Friday Agreement is not good politics”.
He continued: “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.
“Our response to Prime Minister Johnson’s letter is simple: We share his stated commitment to an orderly Brexit and to upholding the Good Friday Agreement. We reiterate that the backstop is a necessary, legally operative solution to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland and we deeply regret that the new UK government wants to replace a legally operative solution with a commitment to try to find a solution – yet to be found- by the end of the transition period.”
Mr Hogan said a hard Brexit would mean “pain for everyone, but the worst pain will be felt by the people of the UK”. He said that like his two predecessors, Theresa May and David Cameron, Mr Johnson is putting “the best interests of the Tory Party ahead of the best interests of the UK” and that “electioneering” had begun in July “which is never a good basis for negotiations”.
Mr Hogan said: “More than three years on from the referendum, we still have no clear idea about what kind of Brexit the UK wants. And the UK is running out of time to make up its mind.”
The former Fine Gael TD said that the European Commission, to which he was re-appointed for a second five-year term in July, would analyse any “legally operable” ideas from the UK that are compatible with the withdrawal deal and is ready to “rework” the political declaration on the future EU-UK relationship in line with European Council guidelines.