German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference at the Federal Press Conference building in Berlin, Germany. Picture: BLOOMBERG/KRISZTIAN BOCSI
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference at the Federal Press Conference building in Berlin, Germany. Picture: BLOOMBERG/KRISZTIAN BOCSI

Berlin — Germany has slapped down Britain's hopes of persuading Brussels to rewrite the Brexit deal, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson saying re-examining the agreement was “not on the agenda”.

"Opening the withdrawal agreement is not on the agenda,” said Steffen Seibert, a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would seek to revisit the pact she sealed with the 27 EU leaders at a summit in December.

Late on Tuesday, British MPs voted for an amendment saying they would only support a divorce deal if a controversial ”backstop” clause to keep the Irish border open were removed.

The German government has taken note of the British parliament's decision to seek “more clarity” on the border issue, Seibert said. “It is now up to PM Theresa May to give concrete explanations on this issue to the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker,” he said.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas said earlier on Wednesday that it remained unclear what the British government wanted amended. “It must now quickly say what it wants because time is short,” said Maas.

He emphasised however that Germany and the EU stood firmly behind Ireland on the issue. “We won't allow Ireland to be isolated on this question," he said.

Brexit hardliners from May's Conservative party think the backstop — created to keep the border open with Ireland — could see Britain indefinitely tied to EU trade rules.

The winning amendment calls for the backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” — vague wording that did not pin May to any specific approach.

AFP