Boris Johnson ‘faces challenging times’ – EU’s Ursula von der Leyen

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Media caption“Challenging times ahead of us,” says Von der Leyen

The newly elected president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has congratulated incoming UK PM Boris Johnson, but warned he was facing “challenging” times ahead.

Mr Johnson was elected new Conservative leader in a ballot of party members.

US President Donald Trump congratulated him tweeting: “He will be great!”

The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, will meet MEPs on the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group on Wednesday to respond to the election.

Ms von der Leyen has repeatedly said she is willing to grant the UK another extension to Brexit talks, if London comes up with good reasons.

The new EU chief told journalists both sides must strive to avoid the negative consequences of a no-deal departure from the EU.

She said the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the outgoing UK prime minister, Theresa May, would remain the basis for any future talks, even though MPs have rejected it three times.

Last week they voted to make it more difficult for Mrs May’s successor to force through a no-deal Brexit by suspending parliament.

Ms von der Leyen, a former German defence minister, is set to take office the day after the current deadline for Brexit of 31 October.

Mr Johnson has said he wanted to renegotiate a new deal with the EU, ditching large parts of the accord Mrs May struck with Brussels last year.

In the often divisive Brexit world of “them and us”, it is easy to forget that, beyond Brexit, EU leaders still see the UK as a close partner and ally.

Tuesday’s messages of congratulation to Boris Johnson from across Europe were a timely reminder.

Whatever happens with Brexit, France, Germany, Poland et al still very much hope to work closely with the UK on international issues like Russia sanctions, Iran and human rights protection.

But EU leaders’ welcoming tone does not signal a willingness to accept whatever Prime Minister Johnson might demand in terms of changes to the Brexit deal.

He’s right when he says a no-deal Brexit is bad for Brussels, but he overestimates EU wiggle room. Amendments will only be forthcoming if EU leaders deem them workable and are convinced the new prime minister commands a majority in parliament to get the Brexit deal through once and for all.

There has been further reaction from across Europe:

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party said they expect Mr Johnson “to pursue a responsible policy in Britain’s interest. Responsible means – even for a Brexit hardliner – to prevent an unregulated Brexit at all costs”.

Industry chiefs there have also warned of the dangers of no-deal Brexit. Joachim Lang, CEO of the Association of German Industry, said: “Threats from London to leave the EU with no deal are harmful and will come back like a boomerang. They exacerbate damages that have already affected the economy.”

France‘s President Emmanuel Macron praised outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May’s “courage and dignity” and the fact that she had never “blocked the workings of the European Union”.

On the new man in charge, he said: “I am looking forward to working with him, not only on European topics and the ongoing Brexit negotiations, but also on important international topics… such as Iran and international security.”

Italy‘s Interior Minister and leader of the Lega party Matteo Salvini tweeted: “Good job #BorisJohnson. The fact that on the left they depict him as ‘more dangerous than the Lega’ makes me like even him more.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted:

The deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Ireland, Simon Coveney, tweeted:

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