BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Sunday it was unclear how any talks between Britain and Ireland on resolving the question of the Irish backstop could help the European Union’s deal with London on Brexit.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is to set out her plans for Brexit on Monday after UK lawmakers rejected her deal with the EU last week, throwing the process into disarray. The United Kingdom is due to leave the bloc on March 29.
Asked by ZDF television about media reports on possible plans by May to negotiate a bilateral deal with the Irish government, Maas said it was unclear how it would work.
“We have to negotiate and also agree a withdrawal agreement with Britain. It is a bit of a mystery to me what the British government wants to negotiate with Dublin or what sort of an additional agreement it should be,” he told German television.
“It won’t have any effect on what was agreed with the (European) Commission.”
The Sunday Times reported that May was seeking a bilateral treaty with Ireland to remove the contentious backstop arrangement that the EU insists on to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Maas also said it would be “very difficult” to renegotiate Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the EU.
“All 27 members must agree. In the last few days there have been relatively clear statements that there are many who are not ready to and there are some that are open to it. We have to wait to see what the Britons suggest,” he said.
In an interview with Monday’s edition of Die Welt daily, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a pro-European, said it was pointless for the EU to make concessions to Britain.
“Even if the EU moves away from the backstop and gives up the position of the Irish government, which I don’t think will happen, even that wouldn’t save the deal,” he said, adding he put the risk of a no-deal Brexit at just 10 percent.
Like the EU as a whole, Germany does not want a no-deal Brexit but it has plans in place just in case.
The DIHK Chambers of Commerce, a body that represents German businesses, also argued that the EU should not offer Britain concessions.
“If we move towards the Britons further, the integrity of the internal market will be at stake and this is not negotiable from the point of view of German industry,” Volker Treier, foreign trade chief of the DIHK, told Tagesspiegel.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Dale Hudson