Downing Street denies UK will pay €40bn Brexit divorce bill

Source says such a high bill would be unacceptable to British government and public

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May: has accepted some amount must be paid and says she needs “to determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations”. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May: has accepted some amount must be paid and says she needs “to determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations”. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

 

Downing Street has dismissed the idea of paying a Brexit divorce bill of up to €40 billion, as leading supporters of leaving the EU said they would not accept handing over such a large sum.

Theresa May was reported on Sunday to be willing to pay that amount as the price for getting on with trade talks and an exit deal.

The sum would be a compromise, because Brussels has demanded about €60 billion. The €40 billion figure would still be the equivalent of several years of contributions to the EU budget, which would continue to be paid during the transitional period after leaving the EU in March 2019.

A Downing Street source, however, said the figure – mentioned by Brussels sources quoted in the Sunday Telegraph – was “inaccurate speculation”, playing down the idea that such a high bill would be acceptable to the government or the Brexit-voting public.

The issue of payments to the EU is a huge political problem for No 10, partly because the Brexit campaign was based on a slogan of recouping £350 million (€388 million) a week from Brussels to put towards the National Health Service.

At the same time, the EU will not progress to the next stage of talks on the future relationship until it deems “sufficient progress” has been made on the financial settlement. Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator, told diplomats last month the next step may be pushed back to December because Britain is stalling on the bill.

Fair settlement

Ms May and David Davis, the Brexit secretary, have accepted some amount will have to be paid, saying they need “to determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations”.

Some Brexit supporters take a much harder line against payments to the EU. Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, told the House of Commons recently that Brussels could “go whistle”.

Others dismissed the idea on Sunday of handing over payments to the EU after the point of leaving.

The Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said there was “no logic to this figure. Legally we owe nothing.” His colleague Peter Bone said it would be “very strange” for parliament to vote in favour of handing such large sums.

“One of the prime reasons the UK voted to leave the EU was to stop sending them billions of pounds per year, so it would be totally bizarre to give the EU any money, let alone £36 billion, given also that over the years that we have been in the EU or its predecessor we have given them, net, over £200 billion,” he said. “So if there was going to be any transfer of money then it should be from the EU to the UK.

Trade talks

“I think it would be very strange of parliament to pay billions of pounds to leave an organisation that you have given hundreds of billions of pounds to and got nothing in return. That would be a very strange decision, so I don’t think it would happen.”

The former cabinet minister John Redwood also told LBC Radio it was ridiculous to suggest the UK would need to pay in order to achieve trade talks.

“Ministers would be quite wrong to be talking about any figures. We don’t owe them any money,” he said. “It would be silly to be offering something when the EU is still not very willing to talk and is not coming up with anything constructive on its own side. The EU’s tactic is very clear. It’s divide and rule to try and get Britain negotiating with herself.”

Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, also questioned the need to pay any bill to the EU, using a speech in the US to say he may be forced to “throw myself back into the frontline fight of British politics” to stop the Conservatives watering down Brexit.

The EU’s stance is that trade talks cannot begin until significant progress has been made on the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland.

It is understood the UK government is planning to publish a series of papers on issues such as the customs union and Irish border in the coming weeks to make its public position clearer for the first time since Ms May set out the bones of her negotiating strategy at Lancaster House in January. – (Guardian service)