Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

UK Foreign Minister says EU is willing to renegotiate Brexit deal

Jeremy Hunt says the 'right approach' is needed for Europe to agree to a new deal

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is one of 11 Conservative MPs looking to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister. Reuters
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is one of 11 Conservative MPs looking to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister. Reuters

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a contender to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister, said on Sunday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had indicated the EU would be willing to renegotiate the Brexit deal.

Mr Hunt, one of nearly a dozen Conservatives vying to succeed Mrs May after she resigned as party leader on Friday, said he spoke with Mrs Merkel at this week's D-Day commemorations and was convinced changing the 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."

Mr Hunt did not say whether he was referring to the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which the EU has repeatedly insisted could not be reopened, or to the political declaration on future relations, which could be revisited.

Mrs May agreed the package with the EU last year but British politicians rejected it three times, forcing her to delay Brexit twice, with the latest deadline being October 31.

A controversial provision in the agreement for the Irish border, known as the backstop, has proved to be the key stumbling block.

It would stop the return of border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if the sides failed to agree on a free-trade pact after a transition period.

Mr Hunt said Mrs Merkel had signalled that 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.

"So it's going to be a solution that's based around some technologies, what the Germans call intelligent borders. I think that's do-able."

A German government spokeswoman said it did not comment on "the contents of confidential conversations with the chancellor".

But she said comments from Mrs Merkel after a European Council meeting in April "remain valid".

"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," Mrs Merkel's statement said.

Mrs May stepped down as Conservative Party leader and formally triggered the race for a successor being contested by 11 Tory MPs. But she will remain prime minister until a new leader is chosen.

The leader of the party, which won the most seats at the last general election, in 2017, will almost certainly become prime minister.

The Brexit-dominated battle is expected to finish by the end of next month, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson considered the clear front runner.

Mr Johnson said that he would refuse to pay Britain's divorce bill until the EU agreed to better withdrawal terms.

The former London Mayor also indicated that he would scrap the unpopular backstop and try to settle the border issue when London and Brussels were negotiating their future relationship.

"Our friends and partners need to understand that the money is going to be retained until such time as we have greater clarity about the way forward," he told The Sunday Times.

"In getting a good deal, money is a great solvent and a great lubricant."

A source close to French President Emmanuel Macron said that a refusal by Britain to pay its Brexit bill would be regarded as the country defaulting on its debts.

"Not honouring payment obligations is a breach of international commitment equivalent to a default on its sovereign debt, with the consequences that we know," the source said.

In a boost to Mr Johnson's campaign, several cabinet members this weekend joined a growing number of centrist Tory MPs in declaring their support for him.

But Home Secretary Sajid Javid, another leadership candidate, has also picked up some endorsements and this weekend won the backing of popular Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson.

Environment Minister Michael Gove faced turmoil in his campaign after he admitted to using cocaine "on several occasions at social events" two decades ago.

"I do have a profound sense of regret about it all and I am very, very aware of the damage that drugs do," Mr Gove told the BBC on Sunday.

The former justice minister has been accused of hypocrisy for continually supporting tough drug laws.

Meanwhile, a former senior drug adviser to the government warned that the admission could mean Mr Gove is barred from entering the US under its strict anti-drugs immigration laws.

Updated: June 10, 2019 09:43 AM

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