Von der Leyen left in awkward silence as EU diplomats fail to clap
European Commission boss Ursula von der Leyen has come under further attack for comparing Ireland’s “struggle for the right to exist” before independence from the UK, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Last week, the European Commission President visited Dublin where she addressed a joint sitting of the Irish Parliament to mark Ireland’s 50-year membership of the EU. But Ursula von der Leyen risked a huge diplomatic row with London with comments that have been lambasted by leading UK political figires.
She said: “I would like to dwell on five Irish virtues that will help our union to face our common challenges ahead. First, the Irish passion for freedom. This country knows what it means to struggle for the right to exist.
“Today, another European nation is fighting for independence. Of course, Ireland is far away from the front line in Ukraine. But you understand better than most why this war matters so much to all of us.
“Just like our friends in Eastern Europe, you know that in Ukraine there is more at stake than the future of one country alone. Ukraine is fighting for freedom itself; for self-rule; for the rules-based global order.”
But Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy expert and former aide to Lady Margaret Thatcher, told Express.co.uk: “Ursula von der Leyen is no friend of the UK and has attempted to undermine Britain’s role in Northern Ireland. Her comments comparing Britain’s history in Northern Ireland to Russia’s war in Ukraine were an absolute disgrace.
EU news: Ursula von der Leyen’s comments have infuriated leading UK political figures
EU news: Ursula von der Leyen made her comments during a visit to Ireland
“Von der Leyen cannot be trusted. She is deeply anti-British and I believe she has no intention in working in good faith with the UK on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
During her speech in Dublin, Mrs von der Leyen had also said: “When the citizens of Kherson raised the EU’s blue and gold flag, as well as the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine, to greet their liberators, it was a powerful visual confirmation about a people’s desire to belong to our union.
“We have shown that our union is the home of all European countries thriving for freedom and democracy. And our support for Ukraine must continue, for as long as it takes. Until Ukrainians fully recover what Russia has tried to take from them.”
But leading Conservative Party MPs were also left appalled by the the comparison from Mrs von der Leyen of Britain’s rule in Ireland to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Telegraph: “It is an extraordinary thing for Ursula von der Leyen to say, undiplomatic, unwise and wrong. It shows she is not entirely aware of the historic circumstances.
The former Leader of the House of Commons added: “And it shows ignorance of the UK’s relations with Ireland and a tragic failure to understand the depths of the wickedness of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine which has led to the slaughter of innocent people.”
David Jones, deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Conservative MPs, raged: “It would be easy to laugh off von der Leyen’s statement as just another EU presidential faux pas, in the finest traditions of Jean-Claude Juncker.
“However, this is a much more serious gaffe. The Northern Ireland peace process is a fragile creature, and it is hard to think of anything more provocative than to compare the Irish context with that of Ukraine, whose brave people are resisting the unwarranted aggression of Putin’s Russia.
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“Someone in the Commission should take her gently aside and point out that ill-considered words can have the most devastating consequences.”
Craig Mackinlay, one of the ERG’s senior officers, said: “Ursula von der Leyen’s comparison is beyond disgusting. Britain outside the EU has led the international coalition against Russia.
“The UK and Ireland had a tetchy relationship in the early years but it was settled through negotiation and treaty. It seems that UK bashing is alive and well in Brussels.”
During her visit to Dublin last week, Mrs von der Leyen hinted a deal between the EU and UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol could be within reach. The European Commission President said she has had “encouraging” engagement with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak but warned the consequences of Brexit cannot be completely removed.
However, Mrs von der Leyen insisted she is “very confident” a solution on the Protocol would be found if the UK Government is willing to negotiate.
She told the Irish Parliament: “I’m glad that today our talks with London are marked by a new, more pragmatic spirit because the European Union and the United Kingdom are still members of the same extended family, even if we no longer live in the same house.
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“I can promise you that whenever the European Union sits down with our British friends, we will do so with ‘an honest heart and an open mind’ – to quote the great Irish band The Saw Doctors.
“By applying common sense and focusing on the issues that really matter in Northern Ireland, I believe we can make progress in resolving the practical issues surrounding the protocol.
“We’re listening closely to the business and civil society stakeholders in Northern Ireland, but the consequences of Brexit and the kind of Brexit chosen by the UK cannot be removed entirely.
“The solutions we find must ensure that the single market continues to function in Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union. I think if both sides are sensitive to this careful balance, a workable solution is within reach. I believe we have a duty to find it.
“My contacts (with) Prime Minister Sunak are encouraging, and I trust we can find the way. Let me reassure you, Ireland can always count on the European Union to stand by the Good Friday Agreement. There can be no hard border on the island of Ireland.”