Germany and EU Firm on No New Brexit Renegotiation, as Embattled PM May Survives Confidence Vote

By James Carstensen | December 12, 2018 | 5:55 PM EST

German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets British Prime Minister Theresa May in Berlin on December 11, 2018. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Wednesday there would be no Brexit renegotiation, even as British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote at home after failing to win concessions from E.U. leaders on a controversial “backstop” in the deal.

May won the vote of confidence in her leadership by 200 votes to 117, after telling the House of Commons she would not lead her Conservative Party into the next scheduled election in 2022.

Although Merkel said Germany hoped for an “orderly” Brexit, she told lawmakers in Berlin her government has begun preparing for all eventualities.

“The only thing I can tell citizens in Germany is that we’re working hard on ensuring an orderly Brexit and that, in parallel, we’re preparing for the eventuality that it won’t be orderly,” she said.

May had visited Merkel, along with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and E.U. president Jean-Claude Juncker a day earlier in a bid for concessions over a “backstop.”

The backstop in the current Brexit deal draft, approved by E.U. leaders last November but pending British parliamentary approval, is an insurance policy designed to prevent the setting up of post-Brexit border controls between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is and will remain an E.U. member.

British MPs, including the leader of the Northern Irish party which has a support pact with the Conservative government, as well as Britain’s trade minister, oppose the backstop and are calling for it to be overhauled. Fearing she would lose, May hastily postponed parliament’s vote on the deal until January 21.

However, E.U. leaders have sent a unanimous message that, for their part, Brexit negotiations are done.

“There will be no further renegotiation,” Merkel told German lawmakers directly after meeting May, adding that it was “the common position of the 27 member states.”

Rutte and Juncker provided similar responses, with Juncker telling the European Parliament, “The deal we achieved is the best possible. It’s the only deal possible. There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation.”

Germany has a vested interest in a Brexit deal. The U.K. is the fourth-largest buyer of German exports, worth €85.5 billion ($97.12 billion) per year, and 100,000 German nationals permanently reside in Britain.

Still, Merkel has said that if Britain were allowed “special treatment,” it could encourage other nations to quit the bloc, seeking similar deals.

“I don’t think anyone can foresee the further course of events,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said in the Bundestag on Wednesday. He added that the German government has “prepared for all Brexit outcomes,” likely referring to efforts such as new draft legislation allowing British-based financial institutions ongoing trading rights in Germany until 2020.

“The current political situation could complicate a soft Brexit deal,” Dr. James Hess, a security and global studies professor at the American Public University System, said via email.

“Germany, as the leading economy within the E.U. is likely to try to minimize any impact with Brexit,” he said, adding that it is premature to speculate on how Germany will respond as it will probably wait until May's future is more certain.

“Ultimately, I believe Germany will favor a position, and probably convince the E.U. to accept, a deal that has minimal economic and security impacts.”

Although a deal could fall apart, he said, “both sides will most likely want to find a solution even if Brexit crumbles or a hard Brexit becomes the reality.”

Ryan McMaken, an economist and political scientist at the U.S.-based Mises Institute, said with Britain’s departure, Germany would be in a position to shape E.U. policy much more so than before, but not without downsides.

“German politicians likely value the funding brought to the E.U. by the U.K., especially since Germans have long been viewed as Europe's piggy bank,” he said. “The departure of the U.K. could leave a power vacuum Germany could fill, but it would also mean other E.U. countries might look even more to Germany to make up for lost revenue.”

“The U.K.'s absence is also important because the U.K. has long enjoyed global geopolitical importance because of its close relationship with the U.S., and with the Anglosphere overall,” McMaken said.

“With that removed from the E.U., Germany would be in a better position to assert more control.”

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