Macron says work on Brexit bill is not even half done

Macron says the sides are far from where they need to be to open phase two of talks

French President Emmanuel Macron says that work on settling Britain's financial obligations to the EU when it leaves are not even halfway done. Video: Reuters


French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday the work required to settle Britain’s financial obligations to the EU when it leaves was not even halfway done.

Speaking at the end of the EU summit in Brussels Mr Macron said more than half the work remained to be completed on the crucial issue of Britain’s exit bill and that discussions could not move to the next phase on the future relationship until the three divorce issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish Border and financial settlement have been settled.

“A lot is in the hands of Theresa May, ” Mr Macron said in a news conference at the end of an EU summit.

Mr Macron said the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier had told the EU27 that the UK “still had to make a substantial financial effort”.

Also speaking after the summit German chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union could only agree to enter the next phase of Brexit negotiations in December if Britain provided specific assurances about its readiness to settle financial obligations to the bloc.

Ms Merkel said it was “very clear” what British prime minister Mrs May had to do to break a deadlock in the talks that has prevented a discussion about Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the bloc, known as “phase two”.

“We hope that by December we have moved along enough to allow phase two to begin but that depends on the extent to which Great Britain makes progress so that we can say that it is sufficient on the core themes of phase one,” Ms Merkel told a news conference at the end of an EU summit.

She said that the main obstacle was Britain’s failure so far to signal a readiness to settle financial obligations to the bloc that EU officials estimate at around €60 billion.

European Council president Donald Tusk said on Friday reports of a deadlock between the EU and the UK have been exaggerated and insisted there has been progress.

As expected, Mrs May’s 27 EU counterparts agreed at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels that not enough progress had been made on other issues to start formal trade talks.

However, EU leaders have agreed to start internal discussions on their approach to the “second phase” - talks on trade and the transition to Brexit.

Mrs May has so far declined to say what the UK would be prepared to pay to leave the EU.

She said the UK was examining “line by line” how much it will pay the EU when it leaves the union, which may involve handing over many more billions than the €20 billion (£17.9bn) of budget contributions promised so far.

Speaking on Friday, the prime minister did not deny that she had told EU leaders on Thursday night that her Florence speech was “not the final word” on what Britain was willing to pay as a financial settlement for Brexit.

Asked whether it was conceivable that the total bill could reach €60 billion, as demanded by the EU, she did not dismiss the sum out of hand, unlike Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who has said Brussels can “go whistle” for such an amount.

“I’ve been very clear on where we are in relation to the financial settlement,” she said. “I’ve set out the reassurance to our European colleagues and we will go through that line by line in relation to the commitments that we’ve made in our membership.