German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the U.K. should be given more time to leave the European Union if it needs it, as she pointed to a way out of the Brexit impasse that falls far short of what the U.K.’s next prime minister wants.
Merkel reiterated that Britain’s divorce agreement with the EU, and the controversial Irish border backstop within it, cannot be renegotiated, but pointed to other ways to potentially make the measure more palatable.
The EU has repeatedly said that the Withdrawal Agreement can’t be re-opened — and the backstop that was designed to guarantee that there’s no new border on the island of Ireland can’t be removed. It is willing to redraft the non-binding political statement on future trade ties and Merkel said rewriting that document could make the backstop obsolete.
“The moment that a solution for the management of the border is found in the future relationship — so for the European Union’s future ties to Britain, which basically squares the circle,” then the “backstop will be overwritten so-to-speak,” she said at a news conference in Berlin.
“It will no longer be relevant and we will have a solution for that issue,” she said. “The task is to formulate the future relationship in such a way — and perhaps formulate it more specifically and better and more succinctly than we have managed up to now.”
The German leader’s suggestion falls far short of what the two candidates to become U.K. prime minister have demanded: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt both want to rip out the backstop and say the Withdrawal Agreement is dead.
“The Withdrawal Agreement is the Withdrawal Agreement,” Merkel said Friday. It was “very carefully negotiated.”
–With assistance from Chris Reiter and Birgit Jennen.