Theresa May, U.K. Prime Minister. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

U.K. Set to Tell EU It Doesn't Want to Renegotiate Brexit Deal

(Bloomberg) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May’s officials are preparing to compromise on their demands for a re-write of the Brexit agreement, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The U.K. government is watering down its request for changes to the contentious Irish border “backstop” arrangement as set out in the text of the divorce deal that May struck with the European Union last year.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, during a private meeting Monday that the government is not pursuing a reopening of the withdrawal agreement. That’s likely to enrage the pro-Brexit members of May’s Conservative Party who say the backstop is unacceptable.

While the stance could help the premier get concessions from Brussels, it risks making the agreement more difficult to sell to members of Parliament in London.

U.K. Set to Tell EU It Doesn't Want to Renegotiate Brexit Deal

The EU has consistently rejected the possibility of renegotiating the deal that was struck between the two sides in November, even though U.K. lawmakers last month voted in favor of sending May back to try to do so.

May told members of Parliament after their vote last month there needed to be “significant” and “legally binding” changes to the backstop and that this would necessitate the reopening of the withdrawal agreement.

Through Other Means

But after senior EU officials and leaders lined up to rebuff May, Barclay told Barnier the U.K. didn’t need the deal to be reopened if it could get the desired result through other means, according to the person with knowledge of the meeting.

A second person with knowledge of the EU’s position said the bloc could consider a separate document that could be an annex to the withdrawal agreement that would expand on the backstop arrangement. This could possibly include review clauses and a joint commitment to explore technological alternatives.

Under the current agreement, the whole of the U.K. would stay in a customs union with the EU until another solution is acceptable to both sides. Pro-Brexit politicians fear the U.K. would be trapped in the backstop indefinitely, preventing the country from forging its own trade deals.

They want the backstop to be time-limited or have a unilateral exit guarantee, both of which the EU has rejected. Steve Baker, one of the pro-Brexit members of May’s party, told Parliament on Thursday that there’s a majority in the House of Commons that wants the backstop replaced.

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