A leading member of Angela Merkel’s cabinet has poured cold water on Theresa May’s hopes of reopening the withdrawal agreement with the EU.
Justice minister Katarina Barley said it would be ‘difficult’ if May wanted to renegotiate ‘because the EU cannot make more concessions to Britain on the important points’.
The prime minister told her Cabinet today she was ready to reopen negotiations with the EU on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to secure changes to the controversial backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
She said that, following this month’s crushing 230-vote defeat in the Commons, it was clear that only reopening the agreement and changing the backstop would win MPs’ support for her EU withdrawal deal.
But Barley said there was no room for substantial renegotiation of Britain’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU and, while it could be flexible on Britain’s departure date, London must have a plan for a delay to make sense.
Barley, who is half-British and has long advocated a second referendum, also said in an interview with SWR2 radio that such a vote ‘is becoming more likely every day’ given the political situation in Britain.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29.
Barley said the EU would be prepared to compromise but ‘if there is no plan at all for what should then be different, then a delay makes only very limited sense’.
Manfred Weber, who heads the biggest group in the European Parliament, said that the existing deal was a ‘compromise between many interests’.
Weber said: ‘If there is now a unilateral attempt to reopen the agreement, the consequence will be that not just the backstop has to be renegotiated – then the Gibraltar question, the question of how much money Britain has to pay for exiting, the question of citizens’ rights will have to be renegotiated.’
Weber, the German leader of the European People’s Party, added: ‘If we reopen [it], then everything will be reopened.
‘And to be honest, I don’t see much sense in that.’
He said what was needed from Britain was ‘clear orientation’ on the two sides’ long-term relationship.