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Ursula von der Leyen, the European Council’s favourite to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president, said on Wednesday that the UK could be granted another extension, meaning Brexit could be delayed for a third time.
Von der Leyen said the Withdrawal agreement of Prime Minister Theresa May that was rejected by British lawmakers was a good one, signalling that under her leadership the European Commission will be no more willing to renegotiate than before. The German politician said she still hoped Britain would change its mind and stay in the EU, saying that if London needed more time, another postponement should be granted.
“If the United Kingdom needs more time, I think that’s the right way to go,” she told Green MEPs during a hearing for her nomination as Commission president in the European Parliament, insisting, however, that there would be no change to the Irish “backstop”.
Von der Leyen further warned Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two favourites to become the UK’s new premier, that the “tone and attitude” of Brexit were vitally important to future relations between Britain and the EU.
“Though I still hope you remain, it is in our interests to have you sort things out. We have an agreement — which hasn’t been signed on both sides — and we have the backstop,” she added responding to a liberal MEP during the Renew Europe hearing on Wedesday, reiterating that the deal negotiated was a good one: “I think it’s a good deal but it is your responsibility and your noble task to sort things out,” she added.
“I think the backstop is of utmost importance. We absolutely know how crucial this non-existing of a border for you is, and therefore having the backstop in the Brexit deal is,” she said in response to an Irish MEP. “The backstop is precious, important, and has to be defended.”
But what happens if we do have a Brexit? “In case we’re going to have a Brexit, I am convinced it is crucial the tone and attitude with which Brexit happens,” said von der Leyen, because “Brexit is not the end of something. Brexit is the beginning of future relations and it’s of absolute importance that we have good cooperation.”