Britain may hold out on Brexit divorce cash until last minute
Brexit secretary David Davis makes claim and criticises ‘inflexible’ EU approach
Brexit secretary David Davis leaves after a weekly meeting of cabinet ministers at 10 Downing Street. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Britain could refuse to agree the size of its exit payment to the European Union until the eve of its departure in March 2019, Brexit secretary David Davis has told MPs. Reporting on last week’s round of negotiations in Brussels, Mr Davis said Britain and the EU had “very different legal stances” over what was owed.
“My expectation is that the money argument will go on for the full duration of the negotiation. The famous European “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” will apply here absolutely, as anywhere else”, he said.
The Brexit secretary drew jeers from opposition MPs when he claimed that nobody pretended negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU would be easy. Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, pointed out that international trade secretary Liam Fox had predicted it would be “one of the easiest deals in human history” to negotiate.
Mr Davis said there had been progress in the negotiations but he criticised what he claimed was an inflexible approach by the EU.
“As I have said from the beginning of this, this is going to be a turbulent process. There will be ripples, there will be times when it’s smooth, there will be times when it is very stormy, and we must be ready for that, because it is a negotiation which is going to be about big issues between major states,” the Brexit secretary said.
Mr Starmer said the negotiations had reached the point where the government’s fantasy about Brexit was meeting brute reality. He said Mr Davis and his colleagues had made promises about Brexit that could not be kept, and he suggested that the prime minister’s “flawed red lines” on issues such as the European Court of Justice and citizens’ rights were at the heart of the problem.
“It is a fantasy to think that you can have a deep and comprehensive trade deal without shared institutions, and the sooner we face up to that the better,” he said.
Labour said on Tuesday that it will oppose the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill when it has its second reading in the Commons this week. A party spokeswoman said Labour MPs would vote against the legislation at the end of a two-day debate next Monday.
“Nobody voted in last year’s referendum to give this Conservative government sweeping powers to change laws by the back door. The slogan of the Leave campaign was about people taking back control and restoring powers to parliament. This power-grab bill would do the opposite. It would allow the government to seize control from the parliament that the British people have just elected,” she said.
Opposition MPs are unlikely to defeat the Bill next week, but they hope to win enough support from pro-EU Conservatives to pass important amendments when the legislation returns to the Commons in October.
A draft home office document leaked to the Guardian on Tuesday suggests that Britain will introduce restrictions on EU migrants immediately after Brexit. Visitors from the EU would still be able to enter freely with a passport but those wishing to remain for longer periods would have to apply for a residence permit.