Von der Leyen would consider Brexit extension if 'good reason' given
European Commission candidate makes pitch for top job
European Commission presidency candidate Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday said she would consider a Brexit extension beyond October 31 if it was required.
Speaking at the European parliament in Strasbourg ahead of a crunch vote of MEPs on whether to endorse her, von der Leyen said “a good reason” would be needed to push the departure date back any further.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, who are battling to be Britain's next prime minister, on Tuesday both said the controversial Northern Ireland backstop arrangement was “dead” - prompting fears that both a preparing to take the UK out of the bloc without a deal.
“We cannot talk about Europe without talking about our friends from the UK.
For the very first time, in 2016 a member state decided to leave the EU. This is a serious decision, we regret it but we respect it,” Germany's van der Leyen said.
“Since then, together with the current government of the UK, the EU has worked hard to organise the orderly departure of the UK.”
“However, I stand ready for a further extension of the withdrawal date should more time be required for a good reason.”
In London, a leading pro-EU Tory MP said Johnson, considered the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership contest, would bring down his own government if he pushed ahead with a no-deal Brexit.
Former attorney-general Dominic Grieve said he expected a purge of remain-supporting ministers from the Cabinet, swelling the ranks of those on the backbenches ready to thwart no-deal.
“As I’ve said on many occasions in the house over the last 12 months, if a government persists in trying to carry out a no-deal Brexit, I think that administration is going to fall,” he said on Tuesday.
“I think that by the end of next week there are going to be more Conservatives who have indicated very clearly that no-deal is unacceptable and many of them will no longer be on the front bench.”
At a Tory leadership debate last night, both Johnson and Hunt said that even if the EU were to agree to put a time limit the backstop it would still be unacceptable – a clear hardening of positions that Grieve said made no-deal more likely.
“I think it is significant because I have heard it suggested – not just in this country but in the EU – that there might be some possibility of compromise by the backstop being tweaked,” he said.
“On the face of it, this entirely rules it out, which is always what I thought would happen.”
Earlier on Tuesday an outline of von der Leyen's pledges on a series of issues was leaked, revealing ambitions on climate change, a pan-European minimum wage, and gender quotas for corporate boards
They were in a letter sent to Dacian Ciolos, the leader of Renew Europe, a new grouping formed partly by a merger with French president Emmauel Macron’s Renaissance platform and considered vital to her election hopes.
Von der Leyen is a member of the European People’s Party and needs a majority of MEPs to back her candidacy.