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The United Kingdom should rejoin the European Union to “fix” Brexit, Ursula von der Leyen has said, after Labour pledged to forge closer ties with the bloc if elected.
Mrs von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said “we goofed it up” when asked on Tuesday whether Britain could ever reverse Brexit.
She was speaking amid much improved UK relations since the signing of Rishi Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland in February and after the shock victory of Geert Wilders, who wants the Netherlands to leave the EU, in Dutch elections last week.
“First of all, thank God, with the Windsor agreement, we had a new beginning for old friends. Very important,” Mrs von der Leyen said at a Brussels event hosted by the Politico website.
“And then I must say, I keep telling my children, you have to fix it. We goofed it up. You have to fix it. So I think here, too, the direction of travel, my personal opinion is clear.”
Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said the Prime Minister did not agree with Mrs von der Leyen that future generations would have to fix Brexit.
“It’s through our Brexit freedoms that we are, right now, considering how to further strengthen our migration system,” he said. “It is through our Brexit freedoms we are ensuring patients in the UK can get access to medicines faster, that there is improved animal welfare. That is very much what we are focused on.”
There is no expectation that the UK will ask to rejoin the EU, a lengthy and complex process that can take many years, any time soon.
But Sir Keir Starmer has promised a major rewrite of the post-Brexit trading relationship if Labour wins the next general election, expected to be held next year.
Labour insists Britain won’t be a “rule taker” if it negotiates a new deal. But the EU will demand the UK aligns with Brussels rules in return for an agreement on animal and plant health standards.
That veterinary deal would remove red tape on British trade with the EU and Northern Ireland, but was rejected by the Tories on sovereignty grounds.
A Labour spokesman said: “Of course we want a good working relationship with the European Union. We want to improve some of the issues that there are on subjects like trade, but no we’re not rejoining in any form.
“We’ve set out our position very clearly on that – we’re not rejoining the single market or the customs union. We’re not returning to freedom of movement.”
Mr Sunak moved to repair strained relations with the EU after he became Prime Minister in October last year. He calculated that a closer relationship was necessary for economic reasons during the cost of living crisis and for geopolitical reasons after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The UK and EU were at loggerheads over the Irish Sea border until the Windsor Framework was agreed, which calmed tension that led to threats of a trade war.
Since then, Brussels has approved UK post-Brexit participation of Horizon, its flagship research programme, and its Copernicus space programme.
Mr Sunak, a Brexiteer, is regarded with suspicion by some Tory backbenchers, who fear he will sacrifice sovereignty which was hard won in the tough Brexit negotiations.
His Windsor Framework deal did not convince the DUP to drop its boycott of Stormont, which has now lasted 21 months and delayed action on the economy and healthcare.
Negotiations between the DUP and the Government were now in their “final, final stages”, Chris Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said on Tuesday night.
David Jones, a former Cabinet minister, said: “Mrs von der Leyen should understand that the British people are not children. They are grownups who decided to exercise their treaty right to leave the EU.
“She should also consider why so many member states are unhappy about the continued acquisition powers by Brussels at their expense.”
Mark Francois, the chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, said Mrs von der Leyen needed to “come to terms with Brexit”.