Schaeuble Says U.K. Welcome Back If Brexit Was Overturned

Updated on
  • Britain would face ‘open doors’ if it decided to opt for EU
  • German finance minister comments in Bloomberg TV interview

Schaeuble Says U.K. Welcome Back if Brexit Reversed

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German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that the U.K. would be welcomed back to the European Union if the British decided they no longer wanted to quit the bloc.

French President Emmanuel Macron also said the “door is open” for a return, but warned that it would be much harder to achieve once negotiations have started.

In his first public comments on the matter since the U.K. election, Schaeuble said that “it’s up to the British government to take their own decisions” on Brexit. He said he had discussed the surprise election outcome with Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond the day after the vote, and concluded that “we have to leave them some days” to decide on the way forward.

Asked if the government might reverse its decision to quit the EU, he said it “would not be helpful” to speculate whether that will happen or not. “The British government has said we will stay with the Brexit,” Schaeuble said in the interview during Bloomberg’s G-20 Germany Day. “We take the decision as a matter of respect. But if they wanted to change their decision, of course, they would find open doors.”

While he said he thought “it’s not very likely” the U.K. will go back on last year’s referendum decision, he cited a pro-European groundswell in France and the youth vote for the Labour Party in Britain as evidence that the EU has a future.

Asked about Schaeuble’s comment at a joint news conference in Paris after meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May, Macron said “the door is also open as long as the Brexit negotiations aren’t over.”

But he said “the decision was taken by the British people to leave the European Union, and I respect the people’s decision.” He went on to say that “once the talks have started, we have to be collectively conscious that it’s much more difficult to go back.”

May said she “confirmed to President Macron that the timetable for the Brexit negotiations remains on course, and will begin next week.”

Backsliding Warning

Overturning Brexit is so far not on the agenda in Britain, but last week’s shock election result has stoked speculation that May will have to moderate her approach to leaving the EU. Having lost her majority after campaigning for a stronger mandate to deliver a hard Brexit, pro-EU lawmakers have called for a rethink and advocates of a clean break with the bloc such as Nigel Farage have warned against backsliding.

One year on from Britain’s 52-48 vote in favor of Brexit, pressure is growing for May to do more to reconcile the opposing camps. Talks with the EU are due to begin later this month, and Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator, said the U.K. risks exiting without a deal if May’s government “wastes” more time.

Schaeuble, as Germany’s longest-serving lawmaker and one of Europe’s elder statesmen, is a veteran of multiple high-level negotiations, including as Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s envoy in talks on German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He traveled to the U.K. last year to campaign with then chancellor George Osborne against Brexit.

From his talks with Hammond, Schaeuble said that in the U.K. “they are thinking” about the consequences of young voters having opted for Jeremy Corbyn on the basis of “more distance to Brexit, not enthusiasm for the Labour Party.” He added that he sees parallels with the French electing Emmanuel Macron.

“There is a new opportunity to bring Europe forward,” he said.

“Philip Hammond and myself, we agreed from the first day that Brexit is a decision we have to accept by the British voters,” he said. “But we will minimize the potential damage and maximize the mutual benefit.”

— With assistance by Patrick Donahue, Alex Morales, Svenja O'Donnell, Gregory Viscusi, and Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier

(Updates with Macron comments from second paragraph.)
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