Expected next European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said there are “strong reasons” to extend the October Brexit deadline just hours before a key MEP vote on whether she will be given the top job.
Ms von der Leyen said yesterday she would potentially support giving Britain more time to find a solution to the Brexit crisis before today’s European parliament vote on whether to ratify her nomination as commission president.
In recent weeks Conservative MP Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to replace Theresa May as prime minister next week, has repeatedly said he will take Britain out of the EU on October 31 regardless of whether a deal is in place. The comment has caused divided opinions across Europe and in the European parliament.
However, in a letter to MEPs yesterday, Ms von der Leyen — who needs MEPs to vote in favour of her appointment today in order to be formally appointed as the next European Commission president from November 1 — said she is open to another potential extension.
I very much regret that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union. But I fully respect this decision. Brexit creates uncertainty for citizens’ rights, for economic and territorial actors, and for the stability and peace on the island of Ireland.
“The withdrawal agreement negotiated with the UK is the best and only deal possible for an orderly withdrawal... Should more time be required, and should there be good reasons provided, I will support a further extension,” she wrote.
The position taken by Ms von der Leyen is believed to be part of an ongoing strategy from Brussels to keep all options open in the final months before Brexit. However, it has been suggested it may also be a personal attempt to win over enough MEPs to back her nomination as European Commission president in today’s vote which is not certain to fall in her favour.
Should Ms von der Leyen’s nomination fail to be ratified by the European parliament, it will cause a potential knock-on delay for the appointment of EU commissioners, including Ireland’s nominee Phil Hogan.
Ms von der Leyen resigned as German defence minister last night, in anticipation of being formally appointed as European Commission president today.
Although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stressed Fine Gael will back her appointment, a view also shared by a less vocal Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin’s MEP Matt Carthy said last night he will not back her nomination to the role.