EU chief frontrunner Ursula von der Leyen ‘ready’ for Brexit extension and clashes with Nigel Farage
The candidate to become the next European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen has said she is “ready” for a further Brexit extension if it’s needed.
She also clashed with the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage as she appealed to MEPs to support her appointment as Commission President in a European Parliament vote later today.
Ms von der Leyen described Brexit as a “serious decision” adding: “We regret it but we respect it”.
She said the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement “provides certainty” for peace in Ireland and other issues like citizens’ rights.
She also told MEPs: "I stand ready for further extension of the withdrawal date should more time be required for a good reason."
The current deadline is October 31.
The favourite to succeed British Prime Minister Theresa May in the Conservative Party leadership race – Boris Johnson – has said he wants the UK to leave the EU on that date with or without a deal.
During this morning’s debate Brexit Party MEP Nigel Farage claimed that Ms Von der Leyen was pushing for a “centralised, undemocratic, updated form of communism” in the EU.
He added: “In some ways I’m really rather pleased, because you have just made Brexit a lot more popular in the UK.
“Thank God we’re leaving.”
Ms Von der Leyen replied speaking of the importance of the EU working with the UK but adding: “I think Mr Farage, we can probably do without what you have got to say here.”
Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly told the European Parliament he was "very pleased" with Ms Von der Leyen's remarks on Brexit in relation to her support of the backstop, the Withdrawal Agreement and flexibility on an extension if necessary.
He added: "I would ask you to further underline your support for Ireland in the future as we had unwavering support from Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier."
He also referred to statements she made on prioritisingt he fight against climate change saying she was taking a "practical approach".
"One thing I would ask you is to ensure that as we more to low a carbon economy that nobody is left behind.
"We have to have a just transition for all - the turf cutter from Ireland, the steel worker from Germany, the dairy farmer from Italy and the coal miner from Poland."
Mr Kelly said he believes Ms Von der Leyen has shown she's a "woman of great talent competence, perspective, calmness and well-equipped to do the job of Commission President".
He said he hopes she gets the job this evening with "at least 400-plus votes".
Liberal Democrat MEP Caroline Voaden said she was elected to the European Parliament by British people who believe in the EU.
She added that one of the price she is asking of Ms Von der Leyen to support her candidacy is "to use your influence at every table at which you sit to agree a long extension so that Britain may remain part of this European family."
UK Labour MEP Richard Corbett said Ms Von der Leyen's remarks on Brexit are important adding: "You accept the need for a deadline extension for good reasons. Let me tell you, there is a good reason and that reason is that the British public is changing its mind on Brexit."
He said: "Opinion polls are moving. Every opposition party in the House of Commons now... wants a new referendum."
He urged Ms Von der Leyen to: "Keep that door open".
Ms Von Der Leyen said the debate in the Parliament was proof that "democracy in Europe is alive and kicking".
She ended her contribution with a quote from Ancient Greek statesman Thucydides.
She said: "He was one of the founders of democracy and I think it’s a wonderful motto for our common work.
"It says: ‘The secret to happiness is freedom. The secret to freedom is courage.'
"Let’s have courage together. Let’s be courageous on the European Union.”
The vote on Ms Von der Leyen's ratification as Commission President takes place by secret ballot in the parliament in Strasbourg this evening.