Theresa May does not rule out paying EU for single market access

Prime minister blames other countries for stalling assurances to EU citizens living in UK

Theresa May: The prime minister reiterated her desire for a “smooth and orderly” Brexit. Photograph: PA Wire

Britain's prime minister Theresa May has declined to rule out continuing to pay significant sums into the EU budget after Brexit.

Asked about the issue in the House of Commons on Monday, Ms May would only say that the government would be able to make decisions about how to spend taxpayers’ money after leaving the EU.

Conservative MP Philip Davies urged the prime minister to pledge not to pay any money into the EU budget. He argued that even "contemplating that would be contemplating betraying what people voted for" in June.

Ms May replied that Britain would live up to its obligations while it remained a member, adding: “When we leave the EU, people want to ensure that it is the British government that decides how taxpayer money is spent.”


The comments leave open the possibility – already hinted at by the Brexit secretary, David Davis – that the UK could pay in money in an attempt to retain access to the single market.

The subject is politically difficult for the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and other frontbenchers who told voters during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU would mean clawing back £350 million (€417 million) a week to spend on the NHS.

Ms May was also asked about reports that the EU would charge Britain a £50 billion exit bill to leave the EU. She made no comment.

6-1 support

Giving a statement to the Commons about last week's European Council meeting , the prime minister said she had told leaders that MPs voted by almost six to one to support her timetable to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would begin EU exit negotiations, by the end of March.

She said the government would respect a supreme court decision on whether MPs must be given another vote on the issue through an act of parliament, but added that it would not change the timetable.

Ms May reiterated her desire for a “smooth and orderly” Brexit, and said she had raised with the EU leaders her desire to protect European citizens already living in Britain – suggesting that other countries were stalling the process.

“It remains my objective that we give reassurance early on in the negotiations to EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in EU that their right to stay in the place they have made the homes will be protected through our withdrawal,” she said. “This is an issue I would like to agree quickly, but clearly this requires an agreement with the rest of the EU.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Britain was becoming increasingly isolated on a world stage. He called on the prime minister to make a new year's resolution to urgently improve relations with other European countries.

Mr Corbyn accused the government of a “shambolic” approach to Brexit, which, he said, was becoming increasingly frustrating to other EU members. he cited contradictory frontbench claims about the need for transitional arrangements and how long a deal might take to complete.

Mr Corbyn said most people could agree that 2016 had been a year of huge change for the UK and the rest of the world, “but with change has come a great deal of division”.

He urged Ms May to commit to building better relations with European countries to help secure the “best deal for the people of Britain”, and heavily criticised the Brexit process so far.

Increasingly isolated

“At the moment it is clear that on the international stage the prime minister and Britain are becoming increasingly isolated,” he said. “And if we are to build a successful Britain after Brexit, it is more vital than ever that our relationship with our European partners remains strong, cordial and respectful.”

Mr Corbyn accused the frontbench of confusing people with mixed messages on Brexit. He contrasted Mr Davis, saying a deal could be struck within 18 months with reports that Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK's permanent representative to the EU, had said it could take 10 years.

He also pointed out that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, had clearly said a transitional deal was necessary, while trade secretary Liam Fox suggested otherwise.

“The people of Britain deserve better than this confusion at the heart of government, and confidence is being lost,” Mr Corbyn said. “The government’s chaotic approach to Brexit risks causing enormous damage to the British economy now and in the long term.”

Guardian service