UK foreign minister says EU willing to renegotiate Brexit deal
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a contender to replace Theresa May as prime minister, said yesterday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had indicated the EU would be willing to renegotiate the Brexit divorce deal. Hunt, one of nearly a dozen Conservatives vying to succeed May after she resigned as party leader Friday, said he spoke with Merkel at this week’s D-Day commemorations and was convinced changing May’s agreement was possible.
“She said that of course with a new British prime minister we would want to look at any solutions you have,” he told Sky News. “I’m absolutely clear that if we take the right approach to this, the Europeans would be willing to negotiate on the package.” Hunt did not specify if he was referring to the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which the EU has repeatedly insisted cannot be re-opened, or to the accompanying political declaration on future relations, which could be revisited.
May agreed the package with the EU last year but British lawmakers rejected it three times, forcing her to delay Brexit twice -- the latest extension being to October 31. A controversial provision in the agreement for the Irish border, known as the backstop, has proved the key stumbling block. It would prevent the return of border checks between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if the sides fail to agree a free trade pact after an initial transition period.
Hunt claimed Merkel had signalled EU leaders may now be open to a technological solution to the thorny issue -- something Brussels has previously ruled out as unrealistic. “She said to me ‘Germany doesn’t have that border with the Republic of Ireland, you do... so you need to come up with the solution’,” he said of their conversation. “So it’s going to be a solution that’s based around some technologies -- what the Germans call intelligent border(s). I think that’s doable.”
‘Money is a great solvent’
May stepped down as Conservative Party leader Friday and formally triggered the race for a successor -- currently being contested by 11 Tory MPs -- but will remain prime minister until a new leader is chosen. The leader of the party, which won the most seats at the last general election in 2017, will almost certainly become prime minister. The Brexit-dominated battle is expected to conclude by the end of next month, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson considered the clear frontrunner.
Johnson said in an interview published Sunday that he would refuse to pay Britain’s divorce bill until the EU agreed better withdrawal terms. The former London mayor also signalled he would scrap the much-despised backstop and try to settle the border issue once London and Brussels were negotiating their future relationship.
‘Sense of regret’
In a boost to his campaign, several cabinet members this weekend joined a growing number of centrist Tory MPs in declaring their support for him. However Home Secretary Sajid Javid, another leadership candidate, has also picked up some key endorsements and this weekend won the backing of popular Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson.