Ever since David Cameron tried and failed to renegotiate Britain's place in the European Union, there has been a quiet confidence in British politics that the Germans would moderate more stringent EU positions.

Either in the form of big business interests or political leadership, the Germans could be relied upon for common sense.

Which is why the decision by EU leaders to nominate Angela Merkel's defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the head of the next European Commission could well be seen as a positive step.


The 60-year-old is an anglophile who was partly educated in the UK. She has a strategic view of the world that is alive to the risk of Brexit causing a deep rupture with Europe.

Like a lot of Germans, she says Brexit is a "loss for everyone" and has been clear that a "no deal" Brexit would be a terrible start to the new relationship.

Even von der Leyen's reported belief in European federalism may have a silver lining, since her desire to unite a fractured EU will be aided by an orderly Brexit process.

Also on the positive side is that von der Leyen is not Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator and architect of the current deal.

The arrival of a German at the top of the EU executive, if confirmed by the European parliament, almost certainly means that Martin Selmayr, the powerful civil servant so hated by Brexiteers, will have to move on.

None of which means, however, that von der Leyen is suddenly going to tear up the Irish backstop and allow the British to cherry-pick the EU single market. She does not take up her new job until November 1 when the divorce phase of Brexit may very well have been completed.

In the short term, therefore, the fate of Brexit remains firmly in the hands of European capitals — but even more clearly, say EU diplomats, in the hands of the new prime minister in London.

The October denouement is only the "beginning of the beginning" of a Brexit process that is going to take five years or more to fully unfold.


For that next phase, having an anglophile German who understands the long-term need for Europe to form a new "special relationship" with the UK outside the EU must surely be a positive.