New EU trade commissioner is Phil Hogan

Phil Hogan Image copyright EPA
Image caption Phil Hogan has previously criticised the "tough guy approach" of UK Brexiters

Irishman Phil Hogan has been named as the EU's new trade commissioner.

His appointment was announced at a press conference by the incoming head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

It means he will be the EU's chief trade negotiator if and when free trade negotiations commence between the EU and the UK after Brexit.

Mr Hogan has been the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development since November 2014.

He said he was "very pleased to have been nominated" for his new role and that the appointment "comes at a very important time for the European Union and for Ireland".

Mr Hogan told Irish national broadcaster RTÉ that there had been "movement" happening on both sides of the Brexit negotiations.

He said if there was a Northern Ireland-only backstop then any constitutional issues in terms of Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom that arose could be "improved upon".

There are suggestions Boris Johnson could support such a proposal in order to break the current deadlock.

"There are constitutional issues that are already in the withdrawal agreement that might have to be improved upon if this is a request that's made. Of course we can look at it," Mr Hogan told RTÉ.

"Also we have to have the North-South dimension in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and if there is oversight needed there I'm sure we can look at it."

But the DUP Lagan Valley MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, has said there would not be "unionist consent" for a NI-only backstop.

Trade negotiations

Mr Hogan also said he looked forward to meeting the UK prime minister Boris Johnson in due course.

He said trade is two-way and that everyone must be happy with the end result.

He estimated that it could take up to eight months before a mandate for any trade negotiations with the UK would be received from EU member states.

Mr Hogan also said that if Mr Johnson was to come closer to former prime minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement, then a deal could be reached by 31 October.

He added that whether this would be enough to get a deal through the House of Commons remains to be seen.

Earlier this year, Mr Hogan warned plans published by the UK government for tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit were an attempt "to break EU unity" over the Irish border issue.

The 59-year-old is moving from one key Brexit-related post to another, a sign that the EU will continue to prioritise the issue of the Irish border if and when any future free trade negotiations get under way.

Ms von der Leyen, who is due to take office on 1 November, described Mr Hogan as a "hard and fair negotiator".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ursula von der Leyen was backed by Angela Merkel to become the next president of the European Commission

The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said he was "very satisfied" that the Republic of Ireland had secured the position.

He described it as a "definite advantage" to hold the brief over the next five years.

"He is widely respected in Brussels and across the EU as a skilled negotiator and someone who builds alliances," Mr Varadkar said.

"He has proven to be vociferous on Brexit, and I am sure that this will continue in his new role."

'Huge gap'

Mr Hogan, a native of Kilkenny, is also a former Irish environment minister for Fine Gael.

He has previously warned the UK that it faces "a huge gap between hope and experience" when it begins operating its own trade policy.

The new commission as a whole will be approved or rejected by a full plenary session of the parliament in October. It is due to take office on 1 November.

If approved by the European Parliament, Mrs von der Leyen's executive team will be the most diverse in EU history, consisting of 13 women and 14 men.

No UK MEP has been selected as Britain is due to leave the EU by 31 October.

More on this story