The incoming European Commission president insisted she will expect the Government to put forward a candidate to join her top team if the Prime Minister fails to deliver on his “do or die” pledge. As a sign of his intent to leave the EU on October 31, Mr Johnson refused to submit a British candidate for consideration to join the Commission’s next team of unelected eurocrats. But now under pressure from a cross-party move to outlaw a no-deal Brexit, which forces the Prime Minister to beg Brussels for an Article 50 extension, he may have to soon make a U-turn.
Ms von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels that she expects a Briton to join her team if Brexit is delayed beyond the end of October.
She said: “On November 1, we’ll see what happens, and if the UK were to ask for an extension, an if that were granted, then according to the rules of the treaty, then yes, a commissioner would have to be appointed and that person would receive a portfolio.”
Ms von der Leyen, however, insisted she will continue to respect the result of the 2016 EU referendum, in which Britons voted to quit the EU.
The German declared that Brexit should not be seen as the end of the UK and EU’s relationship.
Ursula von der Leyen to force Boris Johnson to appoint commissioner after Brexit delay
She said: “We are still in a difficult process.
“We never wanted Brexit but we respect decisions that are taken by our British friends.
“Brexit, should it happen, is not the end of something but the beginning of our future relationship.”
Ms von der Leyen appointed Ireland’s commissioner Phil Hogan as the bloc’s next trade bloc, handing him control of the next phase of Brexit talks.
She revealed that the EU is focusing on striking a “very good free trade agreement” with Britain.
She said: “I know Phil Hogan as an excellent, very fair negotiator and he has handled the agriculture portfolio in a brilliant way and this is what I expect of him as a trade commissioner.
“He will be very fair but determined negotiator, and where our friends from the UK are concerned, it is very important to have a very good free trade agreement – I think it will determine the good relations we want to have in the future.”
She added: “I think a hard Brexit is not in the common interest of either the UK or EU and will be way more difficult than an orderly Brexit.
“As long as the topic Brexit is not solved in the different options that are there, I can't speculate on timelines of free trade agreements.”
The appointment reinforces the EU’s commitment to the Irish border and therefore the controversial backstop.
Mr Hogan was highly critical of Brexit during an interview with the Irish Times shortly after this afternoon’s announcement.
He said: “Mr Johnson has made a proposal in the last few days talking about an all-Ireland food zone.
“That is certainly a clear indication of divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland/the EU and the rest of the UK. This is the first time that this has been spoken about by a British prime minister where they are prepared to accept some level of divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”
“If we can build on that we certainly might get closer to one another in terms of a possible outcome,” he added.
He, however, rejected Mr Johnson’s proposal of an all-island zone for food and plant health.
“It would have to include all goods … in terms of any agreement,” he said.