However, while Ray Bassett acknowledged the appointment of Mr Varadkar would strengthen Ireland’s chances of clinging on to the trade portfolio after Mr Hogan’s resignation yesterday, he also said the 41-year-old’s party would be reluctant to see him go. Mr Hogan stepped down from his post yesterday after giving in to pressure from, among others, current Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Mr Varadkar himself over Mr Hogan’s decision to attend a social function in the west of Ireland last week which contravened coronavirus restrictions.
I am sure Leo is sorely tempted to go to Brussels as the present Government has been a bit of a shambles over the last two months
It also emerged he had travelled around Ireland during his summer break from Brussels, despite official rules saying he should have self-isolated upon arrival for 14 days, because of the rate of infection abroad.
Ireland will now have to nominate a new candidate to replace him, although there is no guarantee they would get the trade commissioner role, through which the holder of the post will play an important role in trade negotiations between London and Brussels.
Mr Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, told Express.co.uk: “I am sure Leo is sorely tempted to go to Brussels as the present Government has been a bit of a shambles over the last two months.
Mr Varadkar will be tempted by the idea of joining Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, said Mr Bassett
Phil Hogan confirms his resignation yesterday
“He has made his impatience with the current Taoiseach Martin very clear.”
Mr Varadkar is currently Mr Martin’s deputy, or Tanaiste, in a three-way coalition with the Greens, the terms of which will see him return to his old job in two years’ time.
Addressing his political ambitions, Mr Bassett said: “He will be under pressure from his party to remain in post and become Taoiseach again in December 2022.
JUST IN: Brexit blow: Phil Hogan’s EU resignation is big trade deal setback
Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s former Taoiseach, is a ‘natural europhile’, said Mr Bassett
“He is by far and away, Fine Gael’s strongest figure with a reasonably high approval rate.
“Also Fianna Fail may demand the right to nominate a Commissioner this time.”
Nevertheless, Mr Bassett, who has recently published a book about Ireland’s future relationship with the bloc, Ireland and the EU Post Brexit, acknowledged Mr Varadkar would be naturally suited to a role within the Commission, explained: “Leo is a natural europhile. He worked in Brussels as an intern.”
Mr Bassett also warned it would likely be in the UK’s interests for Ireland to keep the trade commissioner brief, warning if another country – for example France – got it, they might take a more combative stance.
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Leo Varadkar speaks to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels
Micheal Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach, called for Mr Hogan to resign last week
He said: “If Leo went as Commissioner, there would be a better chance of keeping the Trade job.”
Announcing his decision last night, Mr Hogan said: “It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work as an EU commissioner and would undermine my work in the key months ahead.
“I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland, the country that I have been so proud to represent as a public servant for most of my adult life, caused such concern, unease and upset.”
However, he added: “I have always tried to comply with all relevant COVID-19 regulations in Ireland and had understood that I had met with all relevant public health guidelines, particularly following confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test.
Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission
“I reiterate my heartfelt apology to the Irish people for the mistakes I made during my visit.”
Other potential Irish nominees include Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, Mairead McGuinness, a vice president of the European Parliament, and Richard Bruton, an experienced former minister.
A statement issued by the Irish Government said: “We believe that it is the correct course of action given the circumstances of the past week.
“We all have a responsibility to support and adhere to public health guidelines and regulations.”
Leo Varadkar with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen, who as European Commission President was Mr Hogan’s boss, had asked for Mr Hogan to provide her with an explanation.
After the news of his resignation was confirmed, she said of him: “I respect his decision.
“I am very grateful to him for his tireless work as a Trade Commissioner since the start of this mandate and for his successful term as Commissioner in charge of Agriculture in the previous College.
“He was a valuable and respected member of the College. I wish him all the best for the future.”