Germany still supports Brexit backstop

However senior officials decline to confirm support would remain in the future

Angela Merkel and Theresa May in Berli on Tuesday. The German chancellor told deputies after their meeting she could envision offering additional “securities” to the UK but would not consider reopening the withdrawal treaty. Photograph: Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

Germany has insisted its support for the backstop in the Brexit withdrawal treaty remains firm, but declined to confirm this would remain the case in the future.

Ahead of Thursday's EU summit in Brussels, senior Berlin officials signalled they were anxious to expedite a deal on the UK's future relationship with the bloc, obviating the need to use the Border backstop.

Asked if Berlin's support for the backstop was absolute, or if this could change with changing circumstances, a senior government official told The Irish Times: "If there's no deal there's no backstop."

Asked if Germany was ready to shatter lingering Brexiteer hopes that Germany, faced with growing political or economic uncertainties next year, would eventually shift on the backstop, Berlin officials said its partners were the governments in London and Dublin.


“I see no need to negotiate with anyone not part of the negotiations,” a senior official added.

On Tuesday chancellor Angela Merkel met Theresa May in Berlin and told deputies afterwards she could envision offering additional "securities" to the UK but would not consider reopening the withdrawal treaty.

Moving swiftly

Senior government officials in Berlin confirmed that position on Wednesday, insisting Germany was interested in moving swiftly to talks about the future relationship. These talks could progress more swiftly than other such deals, the official said, given the considerable pre-existing overlap and policy agreement between Brussels and London.

But getting to that point depends on an orderly Brexit, and Berlin officials are starting to doubt whether this is possible. "The truth has revealed itself, but not everyone [in London] wants to accept that," the official said.

The idea of the EU "holding the UK hostage" through the backstop is seen in Germany as an unfair interpretation. The backstop – a construct to avoid a hard border in Ireland by keeping the post-Brexit UK in regulatory alignment with the EU – would only become reality if the EU and UK could not reach a future relationship deal. With the political difficulties in London, the Berlin official conceded the EU as a whole was of a view that "one could express this with more precise words".


“The British government know what the backstop is, why it is there and has accepted it long ago and now in its concrete form,” the official added. “I think the best method to make the backstop superfluous is to reach an agreement on the future relationship...”

“It will be decisive what Theresa May says tomorrow [at the EU summit].”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin