As Liz Truss became the new British Prime Minister on Monday, Brussels said it hoped for “new beginnings” but made clear its position on Brexit “has not changed one iota.”
“We are always looking for new beginnings, obviously. Anything that can help move forward in our relationship with the UK will be very welcome,” Eric Mamer, spokesperson for Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, told reporters shortly before the result of the Conservative party’s leadership contest was announced.
“As to what we expect, it is extremely clear, it has not changed one iota, we expect the full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that we have signed and, of course, the Northern Irish Protocol,” he added.
Foreign Minister Truss, 47, was crowned leader of the ruling Conservative party following a two-month leadership contest that saw her triumph over seven other candidates.
She won the final round with 81,326 votes while runner-up Rishi Sunak garnered 60,399 ballots from the Conservatives’ roughly 200,000 members.
She now succeeds Boris Johnson who was forced to step down on July 7 after losing the confidence of his MPs over a series of sleaze and COVID rule-breaking scandals.
In her victory speech, she praised her predecessor whom she said “got Brexit done” and “stood up to (Russian president) Vladimir Putin”.
Yet Brexit remains a painful thorn in the EU-UK relations with Brussels launching several infringement procedures against London for not fully implementing the Northern Irish Protocol which kept the British province within the bloc’s Single Market to prevent a hard border on the Irish island.
But it created a de-facto border between the region and the rest of the UK which London immediately decried after formally backing the international treaty.
The UK must provide an answer to the EU’s first round of infringement procedures by 15 September at the latest.
Truss was in the Remain camp in the lead-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum but progressively aligned herself in the years since with the hard-Brexit fringe of her party and, in her role as the UK’s diplomat, repeatedly made allusions to Article 16 to unilaterally pull out of the Northern Irish Protocol.
‘Natural friends and allies’
Elsewhere in the bloc, “challenging times” ushered in by the war in Ukraine — and not Brexit — were what leaders appear to focus on as they congratulated Truss for her victory.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he is “looking forward to our cooperation in these challenging times. The UK and Germany will continue to work closely together – as partners and friends.”
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda wrote on Twitter that he wishes her “success and strength in leading the UK in the challenging times.”
“The UK is Lithuania’s trusted security partner and ally. Appreciate our cooperation in NATO and the UK-led JEF (Joint Expeditionary Force).”
Roberta Metsola, the President of the European Parliament, meanwhile described the EU and UK as “natural friends and allies, with same core interests at heart.”
“Democracies must remain united, in standing against autocracy and aggression,” she added.
In Prague, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said he believes “that Great Britain will continue to be a valuable ally of the Czech Republic and European Union.”
Even in Dublin, Brexit was not mentioned although heavily implied with Taoiseach Micheál Martin writing: “I look forward to working with you, as PM of our nearest neighbour, on important issues we face together, both bilaterally and globally.”