EU Commission, Germany: New Prime Minister Cannot Change Brexit Deal

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
AFP/File Emmanuel DUNAND
VICTORIA FRIEDMAN

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has ruled out time-limiting the Irish backstop as a number of European leaders are telling prospective Tory Party leadership hopefuls that a new prime minister will not be able to change the withdrawal treaty.

“There will be no renegotiation as far as the content of the Withdrawal Agreement is concerned,” Mr Juncker said on Tuesday in comments reported by The Sun, adding that the most the next prime minister could hope for would be “some clarifications, precisions, additions to the Political Declaration relating to our future relations”.

The Irish backstop remains the greatest obstacle to MPs supporting the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, as it would keep Northern Ireland locked in regulatory alignment with the EU should a future deal not be agreed between London and Brussels by the end of the proposed transition period in December 2020, in order to prevent a so-called ‘hard border’ with the Republic of Ireland.

Such a scenario could result in either the whole of the United Kingdom remaining in the Customs Union or Northern Ireland remaining in EU alignment whilst Great Britain diverges, representing a threat to the union. Asked whether there would be any possibility to give a time-limit to the backstop, Mr Juncker said: “No.”

A number of Conservative Party leadership candidates have campaigned on a pledge to return to Brussels to renegotiate the deal, the latest being Boris Johnson who said that he would withhold the £39 billion divorce bill in exchange for reopening talks However, a spokesman for the Commission backed Mr Juncker’s position, saying: “Everybody knows what is on the table. What is on the table has been approved by all member states and the election of a new prime minister will not change the parameters.”

Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth also said that there would be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement — even if there were a new prime minister — telling Reuters: “I see no willingness to restart negotiations from the beginning. The candidates would do well to bear that in mind in the course of their internal party campaigns.”

The comments by the Commission president and German minister follow similar remarks by French minister Amelie De Montchalin who said that the EU-approved treaty is the only deal available and that “31 October is the final deadline”.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Guy Verhofstadt MEP attacked leadership contender Boris Johnson for threatening to withhold the £39 billion, with Mr Macron claiming to do so would be “a failure of international commitments equivalent to a sovereign debt default, whose consequences are well known”.

However, British lawyer Martin Howe QC had said in a paper published in 2017 that the divorce bill is not legally binding, adding: “In law, we will owe no money at all to the EU when account is taken of what we are owed for the return of capital the UK has in the EIB [European Investment Bank].”

Last week, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that the treaty cannot be renegotiated saying at the end of last month that the only options are May’s treaty, cancelling Brexit, or leaving on no-deal.

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