19th Sep 2019

EU rules out Brexit changes, but could help May

  • Theresa May and Donald Tusk hold talks on how to give guarantees to the UK parliament on the problematic backstop (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU top officials said on Tuesday (11 December) that British prime minster Theresa May cannot expect changes to the Brexit agreement, as May tours Europe in a last-ditch effort to secure guarantees on the problematic Irish backstop.

May flew first to see Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in the Hague and then German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and was expected in Brussels on Tuesday evening to hold talks with EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU council chief Donald Tusk.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

May on Monday postponed Tuesday's crunch vote in the British parliament on the deal, after facing enormous opposition to the agreement seal by EU and UK negotiators only two weeks before.

Juncker, however, in a speech to the European Parliament poured cold water on May's efforts to seek a legally-binding guarantee that the backstop arrangement, which would keep the UK closely-aligned with the EU's customs rules if there is no trade deal at the end of the transition period, could be unilaterally revoked by the UK.

"The deal we achieved is the best possible. It's the only deal possible. There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation," Juncker told MEPs in Strasbourg, adding that there is "enough room" to give further clarifications and interpretations on the backstop.

'Cannot fathom it'

German state minister for Europe, Michael Roth arriving to a meeting in Brussels also warned not to expect too much from May's meeting in Berlin.

"There are ongoing talks, but I am at a loss of fantasy as to where we possibly could change anything in the deal. What we have arduously negotiated from both sides, cannot be just opened up again now. The only positive I am seeing is that the EU-27 are very united on this," he said.

"I can't fathom that those who have put PM May in this situation might want to stand responsible for the UK to slide into a hard Brexit," Roth added, saying "there will be in principle no new pledges to open up the agreement again."

After meeting May, Merkel reportedly ruled out further negotiations to her parliamentary group in Berlin, but said efforts were being made to give Britain reassurances.

France' Europe minister also said in Brussels there was little room for manoeuvre.

"We are very much concerned about the postponement of the vote on the withdrawal agreement. We've done a lot to help the UK. This withdrawal agreement is the only possible agreement and we've done a lot of concessions to reach it," Nathalie Loiseau said.

France has been one of the key opponents of keeping the UK in the EU's customs union without a trade deal, fearing Britain might use its access to undercut taxes and common rules.

Emergency fixes?

May will have a chance to plead with EU leaders on Thursday, when they gather for a summit in Brussels, to give her legally-binding assurances that the backstop will not be used, or will be temporary.

Rutte in 2016 secured a similar additional document to the EU-Ukraine association agreement after Dutch voters in a non-binding referendum rejected the deal.

With the EU's legal interpretation in hand, Rutte managed to secure parliamentary majority to ratify the agreement.

Another option could for EU leaders to deal with the matter in a conclusion at the end of the summit, which is not a legally-binding document but sets the political direction for the EU.

Recently Spain has managed to extract clarification on the status of Gibraltar at the Brexit summit in November attached to the withdrawal agreement.

No deal?

May's spokesman meanwhile said that the British government intends to hold the postponed vote on the Brexit deal in parliament by 21 January.

With Brexit day, 29 March 2019, only four months away, the EU is now gearing up for the possibility that the EU will sever ties with the EU without an agreement on how it should be done.

Loiseau said the French parliament voted on Monday to authorise the government to adopt ordinances to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

EU court adds to knife-edge Brexit drama

EU judges have granted the UK the right to unilaterally stop Brexit - amid question marks on whether Tuesday's crunch vote in London will take place.

May on whistle-stop EU tour to seek new backstop pledges

The British prime minister dramatically delayed a parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal at the last minute, as she faced defeat. Theresa May will now speed-tour EU capitals to try to secure further political guarantees.

May faces EU leaders head-to-head as Brexit deal falters

The EU is open to extending a proposed Brexit transition period for another year, as Theresa May arrives in Brussels to brief EU leaders on how she sees the way forward in highly-precarious Brexit negotiations.

May rules out new Brexit vote as final talks speed up

The next week will be decisive in Brexit talks in Brussels as the deadline for a deal rapidly approaches. At her party conference in Birmingham, the British PM promised not to hold a second Brexit referendum.

EU rules out Brexit renegotiation, again

EU officials have warned they will not reopen the UK withdrawal text no matter what happens on Britain's political scene. The EU summit is expected to give a statement on backstop, but no legal assurances.

Battered May seeks Brexit 'assurances' from EU

Having just survived a leadership challenge 24 hours ago in London, Theresa May is back in Brussels for the EU summit in a hope of getting 'guarantees' from the EU on the Irish backstop. But could they be enough?

News in Brief

  1. Austria to veto EU trade deal with South America
  2. Brexit minister asks EU for 'flexibility' to secure a deal
  3. Kovesi has 'sufficient majority' for prosecutor post
  4. France, Finland give UK ultimatum for Brexit plan
  5. Minsk talks bode ill for EU's peace summit on Ukraine
  6. Poll: Poland's nationalist rulers to win October election
  7. Irish lawyers clash with EU commission in Apple case
  8. NGOs take aim at EU smartphone pollution


How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  2. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  3. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  4. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  5. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants
  6. Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'
  7. A new Commission for the one percent
  8. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us