The European Union could hold new talks with the UK if MPs reject the Brexit agreement later today, Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas has said, but he ruled out significant changes to the treaty.
Speaking to reporters at the European Parliament, Maas said “If it goes wrong tonight, there could be further talks”. But he added “The agreement stands, as it is. I doubt very much that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened. If there were a better solution, it would already have been put forward”.
Maas said however he had not yet given up hope that the MPs will vote in favour of the deal, which he said would be a “victory of reason.”
FM @HeikoMaas comments on #Brexit during his #EP visit in Strasbourg: “We are not giving up hope that a positive vote will take place.. An unregulated withdrawal from the EU would bring even greater disadvantages than Brexit already does."Views on EU elections were also exchanged pic.twitter.com/tYUuYviDkO
— Germany in the EU (@GermanyintheEU) January 15, 2019
Most believe however that the prime minister is heading for a significant defeat this evening on her plan, with some projections suggesting that the margin of victory for the opposition could hit a new historic record.
Opponents of May’s deal have seized on the German foreign minister’s comments, with Brexiter and former cabinet minister Owen Paterson describing them as “very significant”. Paterson told the BBC earlier today that parliament is trying “to stop no deal, because no deal does mean leaving”.
Very significant statement from Germany's foreign minister that the EU would be prepared to reopen talks if and when the Withdrawal Agreement is defeated in the Commons. https://t.co/jUrEoCdMFS
— Owen Paterson MP (@OwenPaterson) January 15, 2019
Despite Maas’ comments, the EU has repeatedly insisted that the deal struck by May is the “only deal” and that there will not be a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop.
Speaking in Strasbourg the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, told reporters: “I would hope that they behave in a responsible way” when asked if he had a message for British MPs.
Theresa May is expected to return to Brussels within the next 2 days should her defeat in parliament be minimal enough that a possible way forward for the current deal emerges. But The Guardian has reported that Brussels is preparing itself for a request for an extension to Article 50 from Downing Street, given the limited time available before Brexit day on 29th March. May declined yesterday to categorically rule out an extension, merely saying she wanted to deliver a “smooth and orderly” departure from the EU.