British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is vying to replace Theresa May as prime minister, said Sunday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had suggested the European Union would be willing to renegotiate the Brexit divorce agreement.
Hunt, one of nearly a dozen Conservatives hoping to succeed May after she resigned as party leader Friday, said he spoke with Merkel at Thursday’s D-Day commemorations and was now 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, is 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 agreement 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.”
A German government spokeswoman said it does not comment on “the contents of confidential conversations with the chancellor.”
However, she noted comments from Merkel following a European Council meeting in April “which remains valid.”
Her statement said, “We have once again made clear that the exit agreement applies, that it will not be changed, and that we can certainly talk about future relations.”
– with reporting by AFP