As the EU’s new trade boss, Irishman Phil Hogan has the power to determine the UK’s economic future. What will he do with it?by Finn McRedmond / February 29, 2020 / Leave a comment
Phil Hogan, the newly-appointed EU trade commissioner, is perfectly happy to be underestimated. He now holds the ring on discussions that will settle Brexit Britain’s economic relationship with the EU. But back in the summer of 2010 he had a different role—as the secret weapon of opposition leader Enda Kenny.
Ireland was on the floor. It had suffered one of the world’s worst banking crises, necessitating a ruinously expensive bailout. The government was discredited and the country at the mercy of the European authorities. Yet, remarkably, the main party of opposition—Fine Gael—was turning on itself, with deputy leader Richard Bruton moving to oust Kenny.
For a while, the plot seemed to be going to plan. On a sunny day in June, Bruton attended a wedding in Killiney, an affluent suburb of Dublin, where he chatted poolside with Fine Gael’s rising stars. But the ambitious deputy hadn’t reckoned with Hogan, the loyal former chair of the parliamentary party, slogging away in the city centre, manning phones, alerting backbenchers that a coup was being attempted and masterminding its defeat. And, when nine senior members of the party headed to a meeting to demand that Kenny resign, Kenny fired them before they could—acting on Hogan’s advice.
Hogan had saved his man. He accessed parts of the party that Bruton hadn’t considered important, and seized control of the process straight out of the gate. Within a year, Kenny led Fine Gael to its greatest-ever victory—with Hogan as its director of elections.
Time and again over a 30-year career, Hogan has shown an ability to spot where the real political battle will be fought and turned his focus there before anyone else. He has a knack for identifying centres of power to capitalise on and instinctively understands how to build the trust required to navigate tricky terrain.
One former colleague describes the Hogan approach as “unsentimental”; another says it makes him “one of the most Machiavellian politicians we’ve ever produced.” He is not a conventional political ego and has little interest in what the press thinks of him. But he is determined to ensure his side comes out on top, and precisely because he isn’t fixated on the limelight, gets results. Britain would do well to take note.
Ireland is a…