EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says the EU “failed” by not getting involved in the UK’s 2016 referendum, won by the pro-Brexit camp. “Here we failed, because we didn’t adopt the position that was necessary. Abstention is not a position,” he told the German public broadcaster ARD. When asked if the EU should have “interfered” more in the UK referendum on EU membership he said “yes”. He also doubted that anyone could do better than Theresa May on Brexit. Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement reached with the EU in November after arduous negotiations has been rejected three times by Westminster MPs. Speaking before Prime Minister May announced her plan to resign next month, Mr Juncker asked: “How could anybody else achieve what she couldn’t?” “If you tell people for 40 or 45 years ‘we’re in it, but not really in it’, we’re part-time Europeans and we don’t like these full-time Europeans, then you should not be surprised if people follow simple slogans once they’re asked to vote in a referendum.”
The UK’s previous prime minister, David Cameron, clashed with Mr Juncker over the EU budget and other issues before arguing unsuccessfully to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum. Mr Juncker will be replaced by a new Commission chief not yet chosen in November. New leaders will be chosen for all the EU institutions after the 23-26 May European elections. He belongs to the centre-right European People’s Party, the bloc which won the last European elections in 2014. He voiced hope that the UK would leave the EU by 31 October the new deadline set by EU leaders. The UK did not meet the planned 29 March deadline as exit terms had not been ratified. Mr Juncker denied that the UK Brexit vote was a personal defeat for him. “Nobody listens to me in Britain anyway. They should, but they don’t. There was nobody in Britain who confronted the lie with the incontrovertible truth,” he said. The current stalemate over Brexit prompted Mrs May to announce on Friday that she would resign as Conservative Party leader on 7 June, paving the way for a new prime minister to take over.