Brexit: “There’s not much time left now”

21.01.2019 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas talking about the Brexit negotiations in the ZDF programme “Berlin direkt”

Do you seriously still see an alternative to a hard, to a chaotic Brexit? Can the situation still be saved?

I very much hope so ... No one wants a hard Brexit. A majority of MPs in the House of Commons don’t want it. And that’s why they first of all have to say what they do want. That’s supposed to be happening tomorrow ... Ulimately, it’s not enough when London decides what it doesn’t want. Rather, they now have to decide what they want. And we’ll then talk to them about it.

Wouldn’t you agree that no deal is much more likely at present than a deal?

It has at least become more likely because the agreement negotiated between the European Commission and the Government in London, a deal which the UK Government agreed to, has been rejected by Parliament. Now we have to know what Parliament wants. We have to know what can be done to win over Parliament. For MPs can’t say that none of them wants a hard Brexit but then always vote against everything put before them. The agreement we negotiated is already a compromise. Both sides made concessions. And there’s not much time left now.

It seems that Theresa May’s Plan B would involve the conclusion of a separate agreement with Ireland on the backstop. Is that even feasible or shouldn’t the other Europeans say: especially on this issue, we really do intend to remain very hard?

Reply: ... It seems to be a creative idea. However, I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work. At the end of the day, we not only have to negotiate but also adopt a withdrawal agreement with the UK. It’s a bit of a mystery to me what the UK Government wants to negotiate with Dublin or what kind of supplementary agreement this would be. It will have no impact on what was agreed with the Commission. It’s therefore good that there’s finally clarity. And that’s why we have high expectations of the plan Theresa May is going to put forward tomorrow.

Let me get this straight: can the withdrawal agreement still be re opened for negotiations or not?

Well, it would be very difficult to re negotiate the agreement ... For then all 27 member states of the European Union would have to agree. Especially during the last few days, there have been relatively clear comments which show that many are not prepared to do that. Of course, there are others who seem to be more open to the idea. We therefore now have to wait and see what the British propose. That’s all we can do. And then the member states will have to discuss how to take matters forward ... The fact that we are talking, that we want to do everything we can to save this agreement and that we don’t want a hard Brexit – I belive that shows we have a common goal.

What about the option of a second referendum – do you think there’s any real chance of that happening? We saw the appeal from the party chairpersons in The Times.

All of us would much prefer the UK to remain a member of the European Union. However, I’m reluctant to make suggestions about a second referendum ... We’ve seen in the past that suggestions from Europe tend to complicate matters for Mrs May ... To be honest, I don’t think it’s the most likely outcome.

Interview: Bettina Schausten



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