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Likely new EU boss will support Brexit extension 'if good reasons are provided'

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
German defence minister and candidate for European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Ursula von der Leyen, who is likely to take over as president of the European Commission later this year, said she will support a further Brexit extension “if good reasons are provided.”

In a letter to European political grouping Renew Europe, she reiterated that the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU was “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,” von der Leyen wrote.

“I very much regret that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union. But I fully respect this decision,” she said, noting that it created “uncertainty” for citizens’ rights, economics, and the “stability and peace on the island of Ireland.”

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Ahead of Tuesday’s vote on her nomination in the European Parliament, von der Leyen’s sentiment was markedly more cautious than her previous statements on Brexit, which she has referred to as a “burst bubble of hollow promises”.

But speaking to Green members of the parliament on 11 July, von der Leyen had already signalled that she was open to a Brexit extension, saying that “if the United Kingdom needs more time, I think that’s the right way to go.”

“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 said in response to a question from a British MEP.

The letter, a copy of which was leaked, was sent to Dacian Ciolos, the leader of Renew Europe, the new grouping formed partly by a merger with French president Emmauel Macron’s Renaissance platform.

In the letter, von der Leyen also made pledges about climate change, a pan-European minimum wage, and gender quotas for corporate boards, among other things.

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Von der Leyen, a member of the European People’s Party, needs a majority of MEPs to back her candidacy in Tuesday’s vote, and the backing of rival party Renew Europe is considered crucial.

Though other European leaders have signalled that they may be open to granting another Brexit extension beyond 31 October, there are growing signs of exasperation.

Speaking last month, Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar warned that the bloc’s leaders had run out of patience.

“I think an extension could really only happen if it were to facilitate something like a general election in the UK, or even something like a second referendum, if they decided to have one,” Varadkar said.

“What won’t be entertained is an extension for further negotiations or further indicative votes. The time for that has long since passed,” he warned.