Speaking during a PES conference in Lisbon, Timmermans, now a vice-president of the European Commission but with ambitions to succeed president Jean-Claude Juncker in May next year, said: “The UK is always more than welcome to stay.”
Addressing Britain directly, Timmermans said there is “one political family in Europe that wants you to stay: please think about that.”
He also laid out his ambitions were he to succeed Juncker in the EU’s top job, saying that he would push for better salaries, better protection of small service providers and fair taxation of large digital corporations and the super-rich.
“These elections are about the soul of Europe,” Timmermans said.
Voters were deciding between democracy and rule of law on the one hand and the politics of power on the other, he said.
He was elected via acclamation on Saturday by the approximately 1000 delegates attending the conference. His closest rival, conservative Manfred Weber, for the centre-right European People’s Party, is also hoping to become the commission’s head.
Meanwhile, former British foreign minister Boris Johnson said yesterday that British Prime Minister Theresa May could stay on as prime minister and go back to Brussels and renegotiate the divorce agreement if she loses a crucial parliamentary vote tomorrow on her Brexit deal.
Johnson, a leading Brexit campaigner who is seen as a possible successor to May, said Brussels would listen if she asked for the removal from the deal of the Irish “backstop”, an insurance policy designed to prevent a post-Brexit hard border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland.
Asked if she could stay on as leader and go back to the EU to renegotiate the deal if she loses the vote, Johnson told the BBC: “Of course, that is exactly what needs to happen.
“What people want to hear now is not stuff about leadership elections and personalities.
“What they want to hear is that there a plan to get out of this mess,” he said. dpa Reuters