EU tells Tory leadership contenders it will not change Brexit deal for a new prime minister

'The election of a new prime minister will of course not change the parameters of what is on the table', says EU commission

Jon Stone
Tuesday 11 June 2019 12:40 BST
EU says new prime minister will not change Brexit talks

The appointment of a new prime minister in the UK will not be able to change the Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May, the EU Commission has confirmed.

A spokesperson for the EU’s executive said the leadership race to replace Ms May would “of course not change the parameters of what is on the table”.

The intervention by Brussels comes as Tory leadership candidates pledge various strategies to change or circumvent the withdrawal agreement, which was rejected by parliament three times.

Asked about comments by frontrunner Boris Johnson, the spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday afternoon: “Of course, everybody knows what is on the table, what is on the table has been negotiated successfully by the Commission and has been approved by all member states, and the election of a new prime minister will of course not change the parameters of what is on the table. That is known.”

The spokesperson added that Brussels was on a “Brexit break” and that it would also ”refrain from any positions or opinions that would risk interfering with the ongoing leadership contest in the Conservative party”.

Back in Westminster, Mr Johnson had claimed he could withhold payment of the Brexit divorce bill in order to force the EU's hand and change the deal. Michael Gove has said he would bring a "full stop" to the controversial Irish backstop plan, while Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid have also said they would renegotiate it.

Meanwhile Matt Hancock as said he would push for a time-limit on the policy, which the EU has also ruled out. Mark Harper has said he would replace the withdrawal agreement with the so-called "Malthouse compromise", a plan cooked-up by Tory MPs that was met with derision in Brussels when it was first unveiled months ago.

The leadership contenders were accused of "humiliating" the UK with their approach. Chris Davies, a newly elected Liberal Democrat MEP said: "The Tory leadership race has become a unicorn hunt, in which the riders are totally detached from the reality of what our European partners are actually saying to us.

"None of the candidates to be our future PM have learnt anything from the Article 50 negotiations. Brexit has to stop. The humiliation of our country must cease. If people believe in Britain they should want our country to be a leader in Europe, not a leaver."

While the EU has ruled out changes to the withdrawal agreement – which covers all the issues raised by the Tory leadership hopefuls – it has said it is open to changes to the future relationship. Such changes could include a customs union, or single market alignment.

The current European Commission will be replaced in November by a new administration picked by members states, because it has reached the end of its term. But there are few major differences in Brussels over the handling of Brexit, and all the prospective candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president have similar views on the withdrawal agreement. In fact, one possible contender for the top job is Michel Barnier himself – the EU's chief Brexit negotiator.

While the Commission conducted day-to-day negotiations with the UK on the treaty, its objectives and policies were set by the 27 remaining EU national leaders on the European Council, further illustrating that a change in Commission is unlikely to change the maths on Brexit.

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