The European Union's top trade official, Phil Hogan, has resigned after he became embroiled in a controversy over a recent trip home to Ireland and questionable adherence to Covid-19 rules.
The move means that the EU's executive office will have to replace a key commissioner while it has to deal with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and entered into the final months of difficult talks with the UK on a possible Brexit deal.
“This evening I have tendered my resignation as EU Trade Commissioner," Hogan said in a statement.
“It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work."
He has come under fire in his home country amid allegations he skirted rules other Irish citizens have to live by.
A contrite Hogan acknowledged such a fundamental error and said “I fully understand their sense of hurt and anger when they feel that those in public service do not meet the standards expected of them.”
The EU has consistently underscored the importance of obeying all restrictions imposed by the 27 member countries, and turning a blind eye to infractions by its own top officials would undermine that effort.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen had been assessing whether to fire the commissioner over his travel infractions when Hogan said he would resign - insisting he was jumping and had not been pushed.
Hogan had earlier lost the support of the Irish government, but the final decision on his fate was for von der Leyen to make.
“I respect his decision," von der Leyen said. “I am very grateful to him for his tireless work as a Trade Commissioner since the start of this mandate."
Hogan held an important position in the bloc’s executive Commission, being the key person dealing with international trade issues, like commercial agreements with the United States or future relations with Britain, which officially left the EU on January 31.
The scandal was fuelled further by changes in Hogan’s account of his actions, as he issued a series of statements about his travel and adherence to the rules Ireland had imposed.
The Irish Times opinionated that Phil Hogan's voice on Brexit "will be missed" as the -now former- trade commissioner, who, as a former Irish farmer and politician for the liberal conservative Fine Gael party, could have provided a powerful voice against a "no deal Brexit" in negotiations with London.