Phil Hogan: The ex-farmer leading trade negotiations for the EU

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PA Media

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‘Farmer Phil’ Hogan has been a vocal critic of Brexit and its proponents

Irishman “Big Phil” Hogan will become the EU’s point man in any future Brexit trade negotiations with the UK, if his appointment is confirmed by the EU parliament in October.

His appointment is seen “as both a tribute to his widely regarded work and an expression of solidarity with Ireland over Brexit,” the Irish Times says.

Mr Hogan has said he hopes the UK will strike a deal with the EU, and that he looks forward to meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in due course.

He has previously been vocally derisive of Mr Johnson and his approach to Brexit.

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He has also issued a statement of intent over what he called US President Donald Trump’s “clear preference for trade wars rather than trade agreements”, promising to engage in a bit of “ground hurling” – the intensely physical Irish national sport – and “to do everything we possibly can to get Mr Trump to see the error of his ways”.

Key facts

At six feet and five inches tall, the former auctioneer and qualified teacher towers over most people.

Mr Hogan’s career trajectory has been shaped by his growing up on the family farm and managing it, before being elected to the Irish parliament in 1989 as a representative of the Fine Gael party.

There he served as minister of the environment, community and local government before leaving in 2014 to become the European commissioner for agriculture and rural development.

At a Fine Gael send-off for him in his home constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny, then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he had been “a diligent and strong representative of the people and that he had implemented a huge agenda of reform”.

But his career in Irish politics was also marked by the implementation of unpopular water charges in 2014, which tens of thousands of people protested against.

“Phil is the face of water and house taxes in Kilkenny,” national broadcaster RTE said, quoting a politician who had known him for decades. “He’s read the tea leaves and knows it’s better for him to go to Europe now.”

At the EU he has also attracted criticism over a trade deal with Mercosur states – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – that was finalised in July.

European farmers, in particular, fear the impact meat imports will have on their local markets, and that they could undermine environmental and welfare standards.

In his own words

“I remain hopeful that the penny is finally dropping with the UK that pragmatic and practical solutions can actually be introduced into the debate at this stage – albeit at the eleventh hour – that may find some common ground between the EU and the UK.” – Irish Times, 10 September 2019

“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 government’s only Churchilian legacy will be – ‘never have so few done so much damage to so many’… Gambling with peace and the Good Friday Agreement is not good politics.” – Irish Independent, 21 August 2019

“Don’t be misguided by those extremists riding the wrecking ball and calling for the EU’s disappearance. Don’t be misled by the rhetoric of Mr Johnson, Mr Farage and Mr Rees-Mogg. They like to see themselves as the Three Musketeers. They are more like the Three Stooges.” – The Guardian, 7 September 2018

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Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

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Mr Hogan’s supporters say he has a reputation as a tough negotiator

“When I think of the European Union, I always think of an old Irish word: ‘meitheal’. It’s an old tradition where people from the neighbouring farms came together to help each other, to save the crops, to save the hay. The essence of it was to be reciprocal, and it benefited everybody.” – Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, 27 June 2019

What others say … on his appointment

“Phil Hogan’s appointment as EU trade commissioner is a very positive development for Ireland. We sought a major economic brief in the new European Commission, and I am very satisfied that we have secured it” – Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadker

“I know Phil Hogan as an excellent, very fair negotiator. And he has handled the agriculture portfolio in a brilliant way… He will be a very fair but determined negotiator.” – EU Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen

“He had developed a very strong relationship with outgoing commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, who used to call him ‘Farmer Phil’… Hogan’s skilful navigation of the Brussels scene showed that the ‘bruiser caricature’ was simply a crude stereotype.” – John Downing in the Irish Independent, 11 September 2019

“The European Commission yesterday… named Phil Hogan, an Irish politician with a hatred of Brexit, to lead the department that will negotiate a free trade agreement with Britain. British negotiators face the daunting prospect of facing ‘Big Phil’…” – The Daily Telegraph, 10 September 2019

…on the Mercosur deal

“He above all else will know that this [Mercosur deal] is very bad for Irish beef farmers. He is saying that there will be support if things go wrong but that will ring hollow at a time when beef farmers feel that they are being got at from every single angle.” – Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness

“Phil can shove his €1bn [support package for the agricultural sector] where the sun doesn’t shine because it will not save our beef industry.” – Irish independent MP Michael Fitzmaurice

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