Brexit setback: MEP warns Von der Leyen could use Hogan’s resignation for major reshuffle

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Yesterday, the EU trade commissioner, Mr Hogan, announced he had resigned after the Irish government accused him of breaching COVID-19 guidelines. On August 19, Mr Hogan attended a dinner with more than 80 people in County Galway.

Mr Hogan, who also faced criticism for not complying with quarantine rules while in Brussels, said he regretted his trip to Ireland had “caused such concern, unease and upset”.

In his resignation statement, he said: “I reiterate my heartfelt apology to the Irish people for the mistakes I made during my visit.”

Following his resignation, European Commission president Ms Von der Leyen thanked him for his “tireless work as a trade commissioner”.

She said: “He was a valuable and respected member of the college.

“I wish him all the best for the future.”

However, Fine Gael MEP for Ireland South, Sean Kelly, has warned the Commission President could see Mr Hogan’s resignation as a chance to reshuffle the cabinet.

He said Ireland having a Trade Commissioner would help in the ongoing Brexit negotiations – so a reshuffle could create friction through Britain’s final stages of the transition period.

Mr Kelly defended Mr Hogan’s decision saying it was the best choice for the country but said “all the good work” he had done in Europe should not be forgotten.

The position of trade commissioner is currently still vacant with Ms Von der Leyen asking Ireland to present suitable candidates for a replacement.

She said she would “at a later stage decide on the final allocation of portfolios in the College of Commissioners”.

This suggests Ireland may not retain the trade portfolio.

Labour Party’s Alan Kelly said: “I think the important thing is now that the government moves very quickly to appoint somebody with a very strong calibre, a high calibre candidate is very necessary.”

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Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath added: “We want to put someone forward who has the right skills and experience and the competence to hopefully hold onto what is really a very important portfolio for Ireland at this time.

“I’m not concerned where that person comes from or what their background is, but we need the best person who gives us the best prospect of holding on to that very important portfolio for Ireland.”

Mr Hogan’s high-profile dinner cost the jobs of Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary and Jerry Buttimer, deputy chairman of the Irish senate.

The event reportedly took place the day after the Irish government imposed new guidelines following the rise of COVID-19 cases.

The new guidelines cut the number of people at indoor events down from 50 to six, with some exceptions.

Despite resigning, Mr Hogan said he did not break any law but he “should have been more rigorous” in adherence to the guidelines.

The leaders of the coalition government said Mr Hogan had clearly breached the guidelines and should have restricted his movement for 14 days.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan all said his resignation was the “correct course”.

In a joint statement, they said: “We all have a responsibility to support and adhere to public health guidelines and regulations.”

Gardaí (Irish police) have said they are investigating what happened at the dinner.

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