A Brexit extension will mean that the UK will have to nominate a member of the new EU executive, incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has confirmed.
“If, after the first of November — and this is not a given — there might be an extension and the UK is still in the EU, then of course I would ask the UK to send a Commissioner,” president-elect von der Leyen told reporters during a visit to Helsinki on Thursday (24 October).
Having to nominate a new Commissioner would be a further embarrassment for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was forced to formally request a three-month extension to the Article 50 process on Saturday, after UK lawmakers insisted on more time to scrutinise his Withdrawal Bill. The government has now paused the process of the bill.
EU leaders are expected to agree to give the UK a flexible three-month extension to its EU membership until January 2020, though it could be shorter if UK lawmakers ratify the Withdrawal Agreement agreed by Johnson and the EU last week.
On Tuesday, the Withdrawal Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons by a 329 to 299 margin, leaving the Johnson government confident that it has the numbers to pass it into law.
On Tuesday evening, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that he would recommend the EU-27 agree to the extension request to avoid a no-deal Brexit. EU ambassadors and MEPs in the European Parliament have also signalled their support for an extension.
“The question of granting an extension, that looks very good,” von der Leyen said in Helsinki.
Although Johnson continues to say the UK will leave the bloc on 31 October, he appears to be backing away from forcing through a no-deal Brexit and in favour of accepting an extension.
In August, Sir Tim Barrow, head of the UK’s delegation to the EU, declined to nominate a Commissioner, while Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said that doing so would be “a distraction”.
EU member states are legally required to have a Commissioner under the treaties. For the moment, there will be no urgency for Johnson to make a nomination even if an extension is granted.
The rejection by the European Parliament of the Commission nominees from France, Hungary and Romania for the EU executive means that von der Leyen’s team will not take office on schedule on November 1, the same day as the UK’s planned Brexit date, and will be delayed until at least December.
Sir Julian King, a career diplomat, has served as the UK’s EU Commissioner since September 2016 and would be the obvious choice to remain in post during the extension.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]