All but one of the current candidates for the Tory leadership (and this role of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) are proposing to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU to some extent.

Various EU officials have stated that renegotiation is impossible and this proposal has been widely derided in the media, by other politicians, and on social media.

Is there any indication at all that the EU would be willing to re-open negotiations on this matter, before October 31st when the UK is due to leave with no deal.


5 Answers 5


Is there any indication at all that the EU would be willing to re-open negotiations on this matter


BBC, Dec 2018

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said there could be clarifications but no renegotiation.

Reuters, May 2019

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday that the European Union was not willing to renegotiate the withdrawal deal struck with the British government

Guardian, May 2019

Shortly after May’s announcement that she was to resign as party leader on 7 June, European leaders spoke as one in reasserting their refusal to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

Some may feel Merkel has been relatively sympathetic but Germany's position is indivisible from the EU's position

Express, June 2019

Michael Roth, Angela Merkel's Europe minister, said there is no “appetite” across the bloc to reopen the 585-page withdrawal agreement. Angela Merkel’s EU point man insisted Brussels had been “crystal clear on this issue” ahead of the next round of voting in the Tory leadership contest this afternoon. Speaking ahead of an EU ministerial meeting in Luxembourg, Mr Roth said: “I don’t see any chances to renegotiate the package.


Theresa May's "red lines" 2016

  • Exit from the EU single market.
  • Exit from EU customs union.
  • End to "vast" payments to EU.
  • End to free movement from EU into UK.
  • Maintain the Common Travel Area and avoid a "hard border".
  • Preserve the United Kingdom.

I've seen no recent statement from Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt say ing they would drop any of these.


I’m afraid the accepted answer is incorrect. There has been some indication that further negotiation could be possible if (and only if) the UK were to drop its red lines and agree now to a closer permanent relationship with the EU involving accepting EU regulations and free movement of people. See this recent comment from the Dutch Prime Minister (my emphasis).

Delaying Brexit beyond October 31 for further negotiation would be pointless unless Prime Minister Theresa May's successor changes Britain's red lines, Dutch PM Mark Rutte said on Thursday.

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    That's a very good point, though this would mean going in the opposite direction from what the Pro-Brexit candidates for the Tory leadership would want, right?
    – divibisan
    Jun 20, 2019 at 18:57
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    This answer is slightly misleading. The EU has stated again and again it will not re-open the withdrawal agreement. It is only willing to re-open the political declaration on its future relationship with the UK, and will happily do so if the UK shifts its redlines. Theoretically there could be a case to reopen the WA if the redlines shifted so that e.g. the UK stayed in the Single Market and the Customers Unions, but at this point I sincerely doubt the EU would agree to take such a risk. Jun 21, 2019 at 11:07
  • The Dutch PM doesn't speak for the EU, though the EU is in the middle of changing the people who do.
    – OrangeDog
    Jun 21, 2019 at 11:08
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    @DenisdeBernardy The question isn’t “Will the EU re-open negotiations?”, which I agree is unlikely, it’s “Has there been any indication that they might?”. The quotation in the answer is such an indication.
    – Mike Scott
    Jun 21, 2019 at 11:09
  • @MikeScott: Still, to my mind, there's no indication whatsoever that the EU is open to renegotiating the withdrawal agreement; it is only open to amending the political declaration. IMO your answer should make this clearer. Especially in light of the notion that Johnson will likely end up threatening no deal at the last minute to try to get a time limited backstop. The EU has made it clear again and again that it won't throw Ireland under the bus. Jun 21, 2019 at 11:11

Language is subtle, especially when politics and diplomacy are involved. The fact that "there is no indication of possible renegotiation" does not mean the same as "there is no possibility of renegotiation."

Any public statement that there was the possibility of renegotiation would in effect be an invitation to start renegotiations immediately, since the amount of noise made by all the parties not completely satisfied by the status quo, on all sides of the debate, would be overwhelming.

Or to put it more simply, this is a game where the guy that blinks first loses.

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    That's the right answer. Everything is possible until at least end of October. Jun 20, 2019 at 21:24

Both of the above answers are partial only. To see why, and find a more accurate answer, you need to look back at why there is a problem in the first place.

First off, the entire agreement is pretty much agreed upon, with the exception of the so-called "Irish backstop". So there isn't any reason why most of it would need further negotiating, or re-negotiating. Both sides can live with, and agreed, on the points they cover. If it wasn't for the backstop issue, brexit would surely have happened.

So we can reframe the question - is there any sign that a renegotiation could solve whatever the problem is related to the Irish Backstop, in such a way that both sides can live with it? To answer that, we need to ask: what's so important about this issue? Why is this one point on the backstop derailing it all? We aren't helped by the fact that discussion of it, tends to obscure the problem.

The basic problem in the brexit dialog is this:

  1. Brexit in an "ideal" sense would mean Britain becomes a sovereign state no longer bound by EU rules. In that case, it would surely want different rules (otherwise why leave).
  2. If two states have different rules, they need to have a way to manage their border. If you don't, then your entire economy is undermined. So every country and sovereign region demands and enforces the integrity of their borders, for trade and all other purposes. No country anywhere in the world has yet managed to do away with this, with a neighbouring country that has a quite different set of border laws, without some kind of physical border activity, nor by just using "technical measures".
  3. The EU surely needs to protect its border integrity with the UK after brexit. The UK needs to do likewise with the EU as well. Neither can afford to back down in this need. It's too fundamental.
  4. But there is no good place to put a border. It either breaks the Irish agreement (northern Ireland vs Eire), or breaks UK unity (northern Ireland vs mainland UK). And they can't back down on these either, they will have those effects if this happens, it would seem.
  5. The brexit problem is held in place because of the desire to end up with different border laws, but also having nowhere workable to put the border at which they'll be enforced. This would be true - and will still be an unsolvable problem - even with a no-deal brexit. The border would most likely go up between NI and Eire, by default, simply because that's the actual EU boundary, until the UK picks somewhere else. The EU wouldn't have any choice - sacrifice its own integrity or set up a border at the Eire/NI border. (Or if Eire won't, then it'll have to separate from the EU itself to the extent of an Eire/EU hard border)

So now we can return to the question. Is there any sign the EU can back down, or red lines can change enough to solve brexit?

A solution can only apparently come around, in one of a few ways:

  • agreement to a customs union or other common rules, so that no hard border is needed. But this would eviscerate brexit and gut all that many brexiteers hope for.
  • otherwise a border must exist. The choices are breaking the Good Friday Agreement or the UK. Those are other red lines that could be broken, though you'd have to be mad to choose the former. (No deal probably means that each country may have to put a controlled border where it feels the need, risking GFA or UK.being broken - not that a hard border doesn't exist)
  • or remain.

There are signs that all 3 of these would be acceptable options to the EU. It would agree to an open/lighter border if the UK was willing to drop red lines and seek some kind of customs or regulatory alignment. It would agree to a hard border. It would agree to the UK changing its mind.

Its not clear that any other solutions are acceptable to the EU, and there haven't been signs anything else would be accepted, probably for the simple reason that no others seem to have been proposed that can resolve the problems.above.

The problem, to reiterate, is not whether there are signs that the EU could change its view. Its that, for its own integrity, it just cannot change the things above, that hold the problem in place.

The killing irony is that the UK knew, or should have known, this beforehand. You don't need a 6 figure salary and political career to answer questions like "what would the main implications of brexit, and main issues with an agreement, be". Classic case of handwaving a problem away, failing.

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    @Time4Tea - the backstop is the EU saying, "if you want a separate customs/immigration regime, we need a border that protects us and can be controlled. Technical measures haven't ever worked yet. Name where you want this border. and how you'll ensure the border can't be abused by being porous". And the UK govt, unsurprisingly, cannot answer that perfectly reasonable question. The rest is really just detail by comparison.
    – Stilez
    Jun 20, 2019 at 23:18
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    @alephzero, if you have borders, then the principles of where and how those are going to work, is the "big picture" in this discussion, from an EU perspective. That's maybe their biggest picture issue of all - looking at the biggest picture, can the legal separation agreement ensure that their integrity remain secured.
    – Stilez
    Jun 20, 2019 at 23:21
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    @Trilarion - read carefully. They're boxed in. There is no "something else". The EU and UK need to.figure out a border that's controlled, and for reasons given, there's nowhere to put one that can work without major problems. What's to renegotiate? Ask the EU pretty please not to mind having uncontrolled porous borders to the world, to save us a headache? Like, as if we or any country would do that?
    – Stilez
    Jun 20, 2019 at 23:23
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    @gnasher729 A third referendum (not second; the second one was in 2016) is also political suicide for the Tories if Remain wins, which is the most likely option (although far from certain). It’s not a risk they're prepared to take.
    – Mike Scott
    Jun 21, 2019 at 5:20
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    @Sjoerd - of course it isn't. The EU border is controlled one way or another with all non-EU countries. Try being in the USA, Russia, Australia, China, wherever, and send any goods you like to the EU. See those customs duties/checks that don't exist if you're in Italy sending goods to France? Those US chickens that can't be sold? That's the EU's controlled border, and it applies to every country that doesn't have an agreement to follow EU rules on goods. See that visa non-EU tourists might need to visit EU countries, that no EU nationals ever need? US/HK import duties on eBay? Ditto.
    – Stilez
    Jun 22, 2019 at 2:19

There is a reason the British parliament has only voted against any proposal and does not support any positive proposal.

An acceptable solution for the UK would be for Ireland to leave the EU as well and form a customs union with the UK. That's basically the only reality the UK parliament is capable of supporting giving its various party lines and goals, but they cannot actually demand this from EU or Ireland and they are not going to get it either. So the UK wants to renegotiate but they have no clue what they should be asking for and have no actual proposal to make.

Boris Johnson has no sensible proposal either but promises that the UK will declare bankruptcy, namely not honor its national debts, in case the EU refuses to negotiate about some putative agreement that the UK government has no mandate from its parliament to make. Donald Trump is very supportive of this idea since a cold trade war between UK and EU would very much play into the hands of the U.S.

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