Speaking at the LSE in London on Wednesday, von der Leyen said that now is the time for “the best of friends and oldest friends to build a new future together,” but added, “the truth is that our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before.”
“And it cannot and will not be as close as before - because with every choice comes a consequence. With every decision comes a trade-off,” she continued.
Von der Leyen, a former German defence minister, took over from Jean-Claude Juncker at the start of December. She was a student at LSE in the 1970s and has family in London. Two of her seven children attend LSE.
In her LSE speech, she mentioned Roy Jenkins, the former Commission President, and Lord Cockfield, “the father of the single market.” She also praised Winston Churchill as the founding father of the European Union with his United States of Europe speech in Zürich in 1946.
Addressing the upcoming trade talks with the UK, she said, “There will be tough talks and each side will do what is best for them, but I can assure you the UK will always have a trusted friend and partner in the EU.”
Though she admitted that 31 January, the day the UK will leave the EU, will be a “tough and emotional day,” she added, “But when the sun rises again on 1 February, the EU and the UK will still be the best of friends and partners.”
“The bonds between us will still be unbreakable. We will still contribute to each other's societies, like so many Brits have done in the EU, and as so many EU citizens do here every day in the UK – whether as teachers, nurses, doctors or whether working as CEOs or in NGOs. We will still have a lot to learn from each other.”
“There will be tough talks and each side will do what is best for them, but I can assure you the UK will always have a trusted friend and partner in the EU” Ursula von der Leyen
“The UK is home to thriving creative and cultural sectors, to cutting-edge digital innovation and scientific excellence in some of the world's best universities with brilliant minds, many of them from all over Europe. We will still share the same challenges, from climate change to security.”
She told the audience, “We will still be allies and like-minded partners in NATO, the United Nations and other international organisations. We will still share the same values and the belief that democracy, freedom and the rule of law must be the foundation of our societies.”
“We still share the same history and geography. And whatever happens, our continent will still share the same destiny, too. So as one door will unfortunately close, another one will open.”
Former UK Europe Minister Denis MacShane was among those in the audience to hear her speech and, later, he told this website, “Von der Leyen repeated over and over again that it was not realistic to expect a total comprehensive trade deal in the remaining months of 2020.”
“She insisted the EU will never be a military alliance and the European Defence Union is complementary to NATO.”
“This was by far the most friendly, polished, love-Britain-to-death performance ever from a major European leader I can recall. Now over to Johnson to respond calmly and in British interests during his premiership” Denis MacShane, Former UK Europe Minister
He said, “For her Brexit is ‘done and dusted.’ Now it is over to Boris Johnson to decide if he wants to continue the Brexit war with Europe or it’s time to draw stumps and keep the UK economy and people fully plugged in to Europe while having absolute sovereignty as and when needed once we lose the obligations of Treaty membership at the end of the month.”
He added, “I have been a watcher of EU bigwigs for many decades and this was by far the most friendly, polished, love-Britain-to-death performance ever from a major European leader I can recall.”
“Now over to Johnson to respond calmly and in British interests during his premiership," said the former Labour MP.
Later on Wednesday, von der Leyen met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. A Commission spokesman said the meeting was to “discuss holistically the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and to look forward to the year ahead in all of its dimensions.”