The European Union’s embattled trade chief struck a combative tone on live television and insisted he did not violate coronavirus restrictions in his native Ireland during a visit.
Phil Hogan apologized again for attending a golf dinner in Ireland during the pandemic, an event that is under police investigation for being in breach of rules and forced a minister to resign. The top trade negotiator conceded, again, he should not have been there.
But the scope of criticism now is much wider. In a testy interview with the national broadcaster, Hogan insisted he did not have to quarantine after the coronavirus test came back as negative.
“I don’t accept that,” he said when the RTE interviewer suggested to him that Irish government rules required him to stay in isolation regardless of the negative test, adding he was “satisfied” that he was “no risk to anybody” once he had received the test result.
On the golf event, Hogan accepted he should not have gone but reiterated he had been assured it complied with virus restrictions.
The question remains whether that will be enough to quell a growing outcry and increased scrutiny of his other movements since the controversy erupted last week. For now, his boss and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, has stood by him but that could change as the pressure stays on him.
His going to a social event a day after the Irish government outlawed such parties is not the only thing that’s landed him in trouble. It’s what else he did during his stay that is fueling headlines in the Irish media, and his public appearance did little to close the case against him.
Hogan rebuffed any suggestion he broke quarantine rules after he arrived, though a steady drip of newspaper articles raise the possibility that he did. Irish rules require most travelers to the country to self-isolate for 14 days.
Hogan says he left his self-isolation for a “medical intervention” six days after arriving in the country and that while in the hospital, he tested negative for coronavirus and was told by the medical team that he was “free to go.”
But an emailed statement from the Irish health authority makes clear that was a mistake, too: “As per information published on our website, a person is required to restrict their movements for 14 days if they arrive into Ireland from a country that is not on the COVID-19 green list.” Belgium, where Hogan came from, is not on that list.
The imbroglio with Irish government leaders comes at a challenging time for the EU, with Hogan helping chart its future association with the U.K. and leading talks to update trade ties with the U.S., a relationship worth about $1.3 trillion a year.
Earlier, Hogan outlined his movements in Ireland from when he arrived there in July to leaving the country on Aug. 22 in a statement published on the commission’s website. “To the best of my knowledge and ability I believe that I complied with public health regulations in Ireland,” Hogan said.
The organizers of the golf dinner assured him it was allowed to go ahead under Ireland’s coronavirus rules, he said. Still, “I now recognize that the event should not have proceeded and I should not have attended,” he added.
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