Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) greets British Prime Minister Theresa May at the Chancellery 
on Tuesday.—AFP
Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) greets British Prime Minister Theresa May at the Chancellery on Tuesday.—AFP

BRUSSELS: “Clarify?” — yes. “Reassure?” — sure. “Renegotiate?” — no. The European Union reacted in unison on Tuesday to news that British Prime Minister Theresa May was coming to demand changes to the Brexit deal the sides agreed just two weeks ago after 18 months of painstaking talks.

“There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU’s executive Commission. “But of course there is room enough to give further clarifications and further interpretations without opening the withdrawal agreement.” EU sources said the bloc was examining the issues raised by the British legal advice to see if they could be addressed, although it was too early to say whether this approach would lead anywhere.

“We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification,” said Donald Tusk, the chairman of the EU leaders’ summit due to discuss the situation in Brussels this Thursday and Friday.

Germany’s EU minister, Michael Roth, called talk of reworking the proposed deal a “fantasy”, another in the chorus of EU voices to stress that the Irish fix must stay.Any clarification could come in the form of a legally-binding declaration of EU leaders giving their interpretation of the draft Brexit treaty, rather than opening it up for renegotiation, which the bloc fears would unravel it. May held talks in The Hague with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte before heading to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel as she struggles to unite British lawmakers behind her faltering plan. “I’m surprised because we had reached an agreement on the 25th of November” at the last EU summit, Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, dubbing Brexit a “surprise guest” at this week’s summit.

“The deal we have achieved is the best deal possible, it’s the only deal possible. There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation but of course there is room, if used intelligently, to give further clarification and further interpretations,” he said.

Tusk said the other 27 EU leaders would discuss Brexit at a special meeting on Thursday, at the start of a pre-planned summit in Brussels which May will attend.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told national broadcaster RTE that Dublin ruled out changes to the wording of the withdrawal agreement but said there could be “a political declaration coming from a European Council”.

“The Irish government doesn’t have an issue with providing reassurance if that’s helpful,” he said.

The embattled May is facing a rebellion in her own party and from parliamentary allies over a clause in the deal relating to Northern Ireland that is threatening to sink both the agreement and her leadership.

“I will now do everything I possibly can to secure further assurances,” May told mutinous MPs on Monday on her dash to Europe ahead of the EU summit.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2018