German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday urged Britain and the EU to show "creativity" and "goodwill" in upcoming Brexit talks but stressed the withdrawal agreement was not up for renegotiation.
Speaking alongside her Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, Merkel said "we want to do everything to avoid a no-deal (Brexit) because that would increase the uncertainty."
However, she reiterated that the withdrawal agreement had been painstakingly negotiated and "we do not want to reopen" it. "This is not on the agenda."
Nevertheless, the German chancellor said that questions over crunch topics like the unpopular Northern Ireland "backstop" provision could be discussed in the so-called political agreement that accompanies the Brexit deal.
The backstop is intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border with Ireland, but Brexit supporters fear it will keep Britain tied to EU customs rules.
"We need to show creativity, we need to listen to each other," said Merkel.
"We can still use the time to come to an agreement over the things that are standing in our way, if everyone shows goodwill."
British MPs voted last week to send Prime Minister Theresa May back to Brussels to renegotiate the backstop clause, suggesting that her deal would then be able to pass after it was roundly rejected in parliament last month.
"When I return to Brussels, I will be battling for Britain and Northern Ireland, I will be armed with a fresh mandate, new ideas and a renewed determination to agree a pragmatic solution," wrote May in the Sunday Telegraph.
But the March 29 exit date approaching, the risks of a no-deal Brexit for both Britain and the bloc are coming into sharp focus.
Japan's Abe also said it was "necessary to minimise the risk of Brexit on the European and World economy. We must avoid a no-deal Brexit."