DUBLIN (Reuters) - Britain’s inconclusive election means it is more likely to opt for a softer Brexit in which it remains in the European Union’s customs union, Irish appointed EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority in an election on Thursday and is in talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for support to form a new government.
Hogan, who is also a senior member of Ireland’s ruling Fine Gael party, said the British election “clearly indicates that the notion of a hard Brexit has been rejected,” Ireland’s Sunday Business Post newspaper reported.
He added, however, that anti-EU elements of May’s Conservative Party might resist attempts to soften the party’s tone.
The DUP has shown signs of supporting Britain’s place in the customs union, which allows industrial goods to move freely without customs duties or other restrictions, and a deal with the Northern Irish party would imply “a much more positive tone towards a soft Brexit,” he said.
“I think there’s a strong possibility that the British government and the EU will make an agreement that will be as close as possible to what is presently there in the context of the Customs Union because I think they will see the implications [of not being in it].”
Leaving the customs union would be “economic suicide” for the United Kingdom, he said.
The British government is reluctant to maintain full membership of the customs union, however, as that would prevent Britain from being able to strike separate trade pacts with countries such as the United States, Australia and China.
Hogan said another British election might be needed to give a government a mandate to make the difficult decisions required to secure a Brexit deal, as May was “very damaged” as a result of the poll.
“It’s very difficult to see how you can strike a reasonable outcome without another election and a stronger mandate for the negotiating team in Britain, whoever that may be,” he said.
Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Mark Potter