‘A bubble burst of hollow promises’: What the EU’s new leaders have said about Brexit

Ursula von der Leyen

  • European leaders have chosen who should take up the EU’s top jobs in November.
  • German minister and ally of Angel Merkel, Ursula Von der Leyen, is set to be European Commission President. Former Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel is to be European Council President.
  • Both have publicly criticised Brexit and the UK politicians who campaigned for it.
  • Michel said Boris Johnson lacked courage and was not ‘serious.’
  • Von der Leyen in 2016 predicted that the UK would eventually decide to stay in the EU.

LONDON — Boris Johnson’s hopes of leaving the EU with a renegotiated deal look remote, after European Union leaders appointed figures with a record of being hostile to the Brexit project, into the two most senior positions in the bloc.

Leaders of the EU27 countries this week nominated German defence minister Ursula Von der Leyen to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President later this year, subject to the approval of European Parliament.

They also decided that Charles Michel, the former prime minister of Belgium, should replace the outgoing Donald Tusk as President of the European Council.

Here’s what Von der Leyen and Michel have said about Brexit and those who have campaigned for it.

‘A bubble burst of hollow promises’

Ursula von der LeyenIn an interview with German newspaper Waz last year, Von der Leyen — a key ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — said Brexit was a “bubble burst of hollow promises that the populists had inflated before the referendum.”

She went to say: “They promised that the UK will profit from Brexit. The fact is that everybody is losing.”

Juncker’s prospective replacement said that while she would “like to see the British continue in the EU,” she respected the result on the referendum, and said that Brussels must focus on negotiating an exit deal.

A no-deal exit, Von der Leyen said, “would cause the greatest damage to both sides.”

In 2016, a week before the Brexit vote, she expressed her sadness at the thought of the UK leaving the EU.

She told Germany weekly Die Zeit that the UK had always helped “level out” EU decision-making with “their scepticism, their understatement and their terrific pragmatism.”

“The EU could lose it’s grip in reality. We need the Brits,” Von der Leyen said.

In fact, she predicted that the UK would ultimately choose to stay in the EU.

“I love the hidden, deep British humour. That is why I want to believe that they will stay,” she said.

“I expect that they will stay. They have a responsibility for Europe.

“I am confident, because a great part of the young people in Britain is against Brexit.

“I can’t imagine that the British will rob their youth of the Europe it has come to love.”

Boris Johnson lacked ‘the courage to lead’

Charles Michel

Michel, the European Council President to-be, isn’t the biggest supporter of Brexit, either.

A few weeks after the Brexit vote, he told the Financial Times that it had left the UK in a “blackhole” and criticised a lack of leadership: “They have not even the courage to lead and say, it’s this direction.”

He singled out Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to replace Theresa May as UK prime minister.

“He said after the election: ‘I don’t know, I give the floor to the other to explain what we have to do.’ It’s not serious.”

Johnson and Conservative leadership rival Jeremy Hunt have both promised to go back to Brussels and negotiate a revised Brexit deal if elected. They have specifically pledged to have the Irish backstop removed from the deal.

The EU has said on numerous occasions that this is not possible.

Michel is no exception. In February, he said “a good deal is on the table, but the British parliament is trying to take us toward a bad deal” and added that he’d prefer a no-deal Brexit to a “bad” deal for the EU.

He added: “The British parliament’s demands on the backstop would weaken the economic development of Europe.”

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