Boris Johnson accuses EU of extortion over Brexit bill

British foreign secretary says remaining member states can ‘go whistle’ for the money

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons, London, England. Photograph: PA Wire

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons, London, England. Photograph: PA Wire

 

Boris Johnson has accused the EU of extortion over its demands for a large divorce payment from the UK as it leaves the bloc, saying the remaining 27 member states could “go whistle” for the money.

The foreign secretary was answering questions in the House of Commons about the Brexit negotiations when a Conservative MP suggested that Britain had already paid enough into the EU.

“He makes a very valid point; the sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate, and I think that to ‘go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression,” Mr Johnson said.

Brexit secretary David Davis later declined to defend Mr Johnson’s remark, telling the House of Lords EU committee that the foreign secretary could speak for himself. Mr Davis said the UK’s aim was “not to pay any more than we need to”, adding that he believed the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, was as committed as he was to reaching a good deal.

Asked by Liberal Democrat peer Alison Suttie what steps he had taken to ensure that the interests of the island of Ireland would be protected after Brexit, Mr Davis said technical work had started on making customs controls on the Border as unobtrusive as possible. However, he said the work had been “slightly stymied” by the change of Taoiseach and the Cabinet reshuffle in the Republic.

“I saw Mr Coveney, the new foreign secretary, the other day, and we started that discussion again, as it were, from scratch,” he said.

He said solutions to issues concerning Northern Ireland were unlikely to come before the late stages of Brexit negotiations, because much will depend on the nature of the free trade agreement the UK negotiates with the EU.

‘Bold action’

Earlier, Theresa May insisted that her government remained committed to taking bold action, despite the loss of her Commons majority in last month’s general election. In a speech trailed as a relaunch of her premiership a year after she took office, Ms May acknowledged her weakened position in parliament and called on opposition parties to work with her.

“We may not agree on everything, but through debate and discussion – the hallmarks of our parliamentary democracy – ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found,” she said.

“At this critical time in our history, we can either be timid or we can be bold. We can play it safe or we can strike out with renewed courage and vigour, making the case for our ideas and values and challenging our opponents to contribute, not just to criticise.

“I think this country needs a government that is prepared to take the bold action necessary to secure a better future for Britain and we are determined to be that government.”

However, British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the prime minister showed no inclination towards listening to ideas from other parties, accusing her of leading a “zombie government that has no ideas, no answers and no leadership”.