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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 nominee 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 in the secret ballot, the speaker of the European Parliament said.  

Mrs von der Leyen, who has previously spoken of her desire to create a ‘United States of Europe’ and was heckled by the Brexit Party earlier today, will succeed Mr Juncker on November 1 – the day after Britain is currently due to leave the EU. 

The German defence minister, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been labelled ‘the soloist’ for her go-it-alone style.  

Victory: Ursula von der Leyen celebrates after she narrowly won her confirmation vote to become the new President of the European Commission 

With allies including France’s President Macron, she emerged as the unexpected choice to lead the Commission after all of the lead candidates at May’s European Parliament elections were rejected by EU heads of government. 

The 60-year-old will be the first woman in the powerful post. 

Speaking tonight, she said: ‘The trust you placed in me is confidence you placed in Europe. Your confidence in a united and strong Europe, from east to west, from south to north.’

‘It’s a big responsibility and my work starts now. Let us work together constructively because the endeavour is a united and strong Europe.’

But in a sign of the difficulties she will face, she received an immediate rebuke from Nigel Farage who said the narrow result meant she had ‘power but no legitimacy’.  

As she battled to get her candidacy over the line earlier, she was jeered by Mr Farage’s Brexit Party MEPs as she said she was ‘ready’ to delay Britain’s departure even further if necessary.   

Elected European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is congratulated by European Parliament President David-Maria Sassoli after the vote

Elected European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is congratulated by European Parliament President David-Maria Sassoli after the vote

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

Mrs von der Leyen had 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.’ 

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.  

Tonight Angela Merkel congratulated her CDU party colleague, hailing her as a ‘persuasive and committed European’. 

Mrs von der Leyen was once seen as a likely successor to Mrs Merkel but her political star has faded after a series of difficulties in domestic politics. 

She emerged as the nominee for the European Commission job after 

Boris Johnson, the favourite to be the the UK’s 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.    

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.’  

Theresa 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. 

Her attempts failed and her agreement was rejected by the House of Commons on three separate occasions. 

However, 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.  

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

Mrs von der Leyen scraped through in 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 after she secured the support of a majority of MEPs

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

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