Brexit-hating Ursula ‘the soloist’ is approved as Juncker’s successor

Ursula von der Leyen has been confirmed as Jean-Claude Juncker’s successor as president of the European Commission after scraping home by nine votes tonight. 

The German minister won the vote by 383 to 327, needing the support of 374 MEPs for an absolute majority. 

There were 22 abstentions and one blank vote, the speaker of the European Parliament said.  

Ms von der Leyen, who has previously spoken of her desire to create a ‘United States of Europe’, had earlier been heckled by Brexit Party MEPs as she said she was ‘ready’ to delay Brexit even further if necessary.  

Boris Johnson, the favourite to be the next prime minister, had last night recommitted to his ‘do or die’ pledge to deliver Brexit with or without a deal by October 31 as he also ruled out holding an election before the UK has left the bloc.

The former foreign secretary and his rival Jeremy Hunt also said they could not agree to a new deal with the EU which included the Irish border backstop as they said the controversial protocol was ‘dead’. 

But with Brussels ice cold on the prospect of removing the backstop and Mrs von der Leyen insistent that a delay would only be granted for a ‘good reason’ like an election or second referendum, a disorderly split on October 31 is now a distinct possibility. 

Mrs von der Leyen used a speech to the European Parliament this morning to try to persuade MEPs to make her the bloc’s next boss as she said a further Brexit delay was an option.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, said Mrs von der Leyen had ‘just made Brexit a lot more popular’ as he also accused her of pushing an ‘updated form of communism’.    

Ursula von der Leyen, pictured addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, prompted howls of derision from Brexit Party MEPs this morning as she said she was open to a further Brexit delay

Ursula von der Leyen, pictured addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, prompted howls of derision from Brexit Party MEPs this morning as she said she was open to a further Brexit delay

The difficulty of the task facing the outgoing German defence minister was highlighted by the reaction she faced when she said she would be open to pushing back Brexit. 

Mr Farage and the rest of the Brexit Party’s 29 MEPs responded with jeering and howls of derision while other members of the parliament only gave her muted applause. 

Mrs von der Leyen said of the 2016 EU referendum result: ‘This is a serious decision. We regret it but we respect it. Since then together with the current government  of the UK the EU has worked hard to organise the orderly departure of the UK. 

‘The Withdrawal Agreement concluded with the government of the UK provides certainty where Brexit created uncertainty.

‘In preserving the rights of citizens and in preserving peace and stability on the island of Ireland, these two priorities are mine too. 

‘However, I stand ready for further extension of the withdrawal date should more time be required for a good reason.’ 

Brexit Party MEPs could be heard shouting 'No!' as Mrs von der Leyen floated the idea of delaying the UK's departure past the current October 31 deadline

Brexit Party MEPs could be heard shouting ‘No!’ as Mrs von der Leyen floated the idea of delaying the UK’s departure past the current October 31 deadline 

Nigel Farage, pictured today as he addressed MEPs in the French city of Strasbourg, accused Mrs von der Leyen of pushing 'an updated form of communism'

Nigel Farage, pictured today as he addressed MEPs in the French city of Strasbourg, accused Mrs von der Leyen of pushing ‘an updated form of communism’

What is the Irish backstop and why is it so divisive?

The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the existing Brexit deal. This is what it means: 

What is the backstop? 

The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.

The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition period if that deal is not in place.

It effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.

This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK, restricting its ability to do its own trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea. 

Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it? 

Because the UK is leaving the customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees that people and goods circulating inside its border – in this case in Ireland – met its rules.

This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains the status quo, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.

But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between the transition and final deal.  

Why do critics hate it? 

Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop. 

Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree and Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.  

Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.   

Brexit-backing MEPs could be heard shouting ‘No!’ and booing Mrs von der Leyen while Mr Farage later used his speech to the European Parliament to claim she had ‘just made Brexit a lot more popular’.  

The leader of the Brexit Party told MEPs in Strasbourg: ‘What you have seen from Ursula von der Leyen today is an attempt by the European Union to take control of every single aspect of our lives.

‘She wants to build a centralised, undemocratic, updated form of communism where the state controls everything, where nation state parliaments will cease to have any relevance at all.

‘I have to say from our perspective in some ways I am really rather pleased because you have just made Brexit a lot more popular in the United Kingdom. Thank god we are leaving.’

Mr Farage also accused Mrs von der Leyen of being a ‘fanatic for building a European army’ as he urged MEPs to reject her candidacy.

Mrs von der Leyen hit back and said: ‘To be quite honest with you, having listened to the last speaker, that provides further proof of how important it is to work closely with our British colleagues in the future.

‘But I think Mr Farage we can probably do without what you have got to say here.’

Mrs von der Leyen’s comments on the Brexit deadline will be seen as a major boost for Remain campaigners because they suggest a No Deal divorce is not necessarily inevitable. 

However, Mr Johnson’s and Mr Hunt’s comments at the final head-to-head showdown of the Tory leadership campaign last night put the UK and the EU on a collision course, with No Deal the potential outcome. 

Mrs May tried to persuade Brussels to make significant changes to the backstop earlier this year in a bid to make her deal more palatable to MPs. 

But ultimately her attempts failed as her agreement was rejected by the House of Commons on three separate occasions. 

But the two Tory challengers have now made clear that changes to the border protocol will not be enough for them to sign up to a new deal.  

Asked if he could accept a time limit on the backstop, Mr Johnson said: ‘The answer is no. The problem is really fundamental. It needs to come out.’

Mr Hunt agreed and said the ‘backstop, as it is, is dead’ and added: ‘I don’t think tweaking it with a time limit will do the trick.’

The backstop was included in the original Brexit deal as a last resort measure to be used in the event no overall trade deal has been struck by the two sides by the end of the transition period. 

It would effectively see existing EU rules on customs kept in place to ensure frictionless trade on the island of Ireland could continue and prevent the return of a hard border.

But Brexiteers hate it because if implemented it would last indefinitely, restrict the UK’s ability to strike its own trade deal and getting out of it would require the agreement of both sides. 

The EU has been adamant that the backstop cannot be changed yet alone deleted which means Mr Johnson, the overwhelming favourite to be the next PM on July 24, may well have to deliver on his ‘do or die’ pledge if Brussels refuses to budge. 

Any further delay to Brexit would be certain to provoke uproar among Tory Brexiteers. 

Who is Ursula von der Leyen?

Once considered a potential successor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mrs von der Leyen’s star has faded in Berlin in recent years but she is now set to take the biggest job at the EU.

Passionately pro-European, the outgoing German defence minister is a mother-of-seven and trained doctor who has seen her popularity hit at home over her oversight of the country’s armed forces.

The 60-year-old member of Ms Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was a surprise pick to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker.

Her name came out of nowhere as the leaders of the EU 28 finally settled on their proposed candidate to be the next president of the European Commission after three hard days of squabbling.

But her appointment is far from guaranteed, with many MEPs angry at the way she was put forward.

If she is able to win the support of a majority of support from MEPs she will become the EU’s first ever female boss.

It would represent a homecoming of sorts for Mrs von der Leyen because she was born in Brussels.

Having crafted a public persona as a super-mum with iron discipline, she was once dubbed ‘the soloist’ for her go-it-alone style and she is also a fluent French and English speaker.

It was previously revealed that she had spent more than a year hiding in London in the 1970s after becoming a target of left-wing terrorists. 

She has previously spoken of a desire to create a ‘United States of Europe’. 

She has also stuck to the EU’s position that the Brexit divorce deal cannot be changed. 

In that respect she is very much in the same place as Mr Juncker. 

They fear that another delay to delivering Brexit would result in even more Conservative Party voters jumping ship to back Mr Farage’s party, potentially threatening the electoral viability of the Tories. 

Both Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have kept No Deal as an option as they battle to succeed Mrs May in Number 10.

But while Mr Hunt has said he is open to a small delay if more time is needed to strike a deal, Mr Johnson has promised to deliver Brexit with or without a deal on October 31.  

Both men have made renegotiating Mrs May’s existing Brexit deal their ‘Plan A’ but Brussels has been frosty on the prospect of making changes to the terms of the UK’s divorce.  

The Christian Democrat of the European People’s Party has promised parliamentarians she will put tackling climate change and social issues at the heart of her programme over her five year term.  

She was chosen as the last-minute candidate by the leaders of the EU’s 28 member states after a grueling three day summit during which other better known names like Frans Timmermans and Manfred Weber were rejected because of internal squabbling.

The way in which Mrs von der Leyen was chosen angered many MEPs and if they reject her then the EU28 will likely be forced to go back to the drawing board. 

Her speech to MEPs this morning as she sought to win over her doubters, came after she had written to socialist and liberal representatives yesterday to make the case for why they should support her. 

In her letter she said that she would support a further Brexit extension beyond the current October 31 deadline. 

But she also insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with Theresa May was still the ‘best and only possible deal for an orderly withdrawal’. 

Her comments on the finality of the current deal highlight the strength of opposition likely to face Mr Johnson and his plan to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s divorce from the bloc if he becomes PM next week.  

Brexit has already been delayed twice with Britain originally having been due to leave the bloc on March 29.

Mrs von der Leyen faces a secret ballot of MEPs this afternoon on whether she will replace Jean-Claude Juncker

Mrs von der Leyen faces a secret ballot of MEPs this afternoon on whether she will replace Jean-Claude Juncker

Mrs von der Leyen will become the first female president of the European Commission if she secures the support of a majority of MEPs

Mrs von der Leyen will become the first female president of the European Commission if she secures the support of a majority of MEPs 

But senior figures in Brussels are concerned that Mrs von der Leyen may barely get the numbers she needs. If she is rejected then the leaders of the EU28 member states will likely have to go back to the drawing board to select a new candidate

But senior figures in Brussels are concerned that Mrs von der Leyen may barely get the numbers she needs. If she is rejected then the leaders of the EU28 member states will likely have to go back to the drawing board to select a new candidate

Remain MPs warn next PM against suspending parliament to force through No Deal

Remainer MPs warned the next prime minister today that any attempt to shut down Parliament to force through a No Deal Brexit would be a ‘kamikaze act’ that could see them booted out of power. 

Senior rebel Tory Dominic Grieve and Labour’s Dame Margaret Beckett issued a warning to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt that seeking a unilateral departure from the EU would risk sparking a general election. 

It came after a leadership head-to-head between the two men vying to be the next Tory leader saw them both rule out any deal involving a ‘backstop’ arrangement for customs on the Irish border –  raising the prospect of crashing out on October 31. 

She concluded her letter with a lengthy passage on her Brexit vision as she said: ‘If elected, I am ready to pave the way to the ambitious and strategic partnership we want to build with the United Kingdom. 

‘Should more time be required and should there be good reasons provided, I will support a further extension if good reasons are provided.’  

Ms von der Leyen expressed her ‘regret’ that the UK had voted to leave the EU in June 2016 but added: ‘I fully respect this decision.’

‘The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the United Kingdom is the best and only deal possible for an orderly withdrawal,’ she said, according to a copy of the letter published by The Independent.  

Her use of the phrase ‘good reasons’ in the letter and in today’s speech has been interpreted as meaning either a second referendum or general election being held to break the Brexit deadlock. 

However, while her remarks give a good indication of the future direction of the EU, it will ultimately be up to Mr Juncker and the leaders of the EU member states to decide whether there should be a further Brexit delay. 

Mrs von der Leyen is due to take over from Mr Juncker on November 1, the day after the current Brexit deadline.  

Boris fails to guarantee that net migration will fall if he is PM

Boris Johnson failed to guarantee that he would bring down immigration levels if he is the next prime minister as he clashed with Jeremy Hunt last night and the race for Number 10 entered its final phase.

Mr Johnson was asked directly if net migration would fall if he takes over from Theresa May as he took part in the last head-to-head showdown of the Tory leadership campaign and he said he would not get into a ‘numbers game’.

But Mr Hunt said if he wins the keys to Number 10 that the number of people coming to the UK would be brought down.

Mr Johnson said: ‘I am not going to get into some numbers game. We will have control. That is what people voted for.’ 

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