Brexit: May rejects call to settle bill before trade talks start

‘What [EU leaders] are very clear about is, yes, they do want to start discussions about money’

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said in a BBC interview that divorce talks with the European Union would be difficult, responding to the tough stance taken by EU leaders over the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Courtesy: BBC's Andrew Marr Show


British prime minister Theresa May has played down the significance of tough language in the European Union’s negotiating guidelines, insisting there was enough good will on both sides to make a deal.

She said that, regardless of how the negotiations are sequenced, there had to be an agreement on Britain’s future relationship with the EU as well as on the divorce terms.

“What they (EU leaders) are very clear about is, yes, they do want to start discussions about money. I’m very clear that at the end of the negotiations we need to be clear not just about the Brexit arrangement, the exit, how we withdraw, but also what our future relationship is going to be,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

EU leaders agreed on Saturday that they would only start talks on issues such as future trading arrangements after “sufficient progress” was made on the terms of Britain’s departure.

The EU wants to start the negotiations with a discussion of Britain’s financial obligations, the rights of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU, and Irish concerns around the Border and the Common Travel Area.

Mrs May said she agreed that some issues, such as the rights of citizens, should be dealt with early in the talks.

“There are things we absolutely agree on should be early in those discussions, the position of EU citizens living here in the UK and the position of UK citizens living in those 27 European countries, absolutely we agree should be in the discussions,” she said.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, hopes that sufficient progress can be made on the priority issues for talks on the future relationship to begin as early as October this year.

Divorce bill

EU negotiators do not expect agreement on the size of Britain’s divorce bill by then, but hope the two sides can agree on a methodology for calculating it. Ms May declined to say on Sunday if Britain would make a payment to the EU before it leaves.

“The EU has also said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” she said.

The prime minister dismissed a reported remark by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker describing her as being in “another galaxy” on Brexit. But she said she needed a strong mandate in the general election on June 8th to strengthen her hand in negotiations with the EU.

“At times the negotiations are going to be tough. We need to ensure we have got a strong hand in that negotiation,” she said.

Later, in an interview with ITV’s Robert Peston, she said she stood by her assertion that no deal would be better than a bad deal.

“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t believe that. But what I also believe is that with the right strong hand in negotiations we can get a good deal for the UK from these negotiations,” she said.

At the summit European Union leaders approved a commitment to protecting Ireland’s interests and a guarantee that Northern Ireland could rejoin the EU as part of a united Ireland.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was pleased with the outcome, adding that the guidelines fully reflect Ireland’s concerns.

He described the statement about the future status of a united Ireland in the EU as hugely important.

The declaration regarding Ireland paves the way for Northern Ireland to automatically become part of the EU if it ever wished to join the Republic in a united Ireland.

Mr Kenny stressed, however, that the statement’s purpose was to ensure that Brexit “does not undermine any provision of the Good Friday Agreement”, rather than to move towards Irish unity.