Belfast Telegraph

Brexit negotiator quotes Churchill as he says UK must pay 'divorce bill'

Britain will have to pay a Brexit "divorce bill" which could reportedly reach 60 billion euros (£52 billion) because "the price of greatness is responsibility", the European Commission's chief negotiator has said, quoting Winston Churchill.

Michel Barnier declined to put forward an exact figure, but insisted the payment would not be a "punishment" of the UK for leaving the European Union, instead stressing "we must settle the accounts".

He said the UK will have outstanding liabilities arising from various EU programmes which it helps finance, agreed to as a member, and benefits from, including the European social fund, the regional development fund, the Juncker investment plan and the Horizon 2020 research programme.

The issue of an exit bill will be one of the early flashpoints in negotiations as UK Cabinet ministers have indicated they are opposed to a large payment.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has said he does not recognise the 60 billion euros figure, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has publicly urged Theresa May to resist a large payment, and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has dismissed the idea as "absurd".

But at a plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions, Mr Barnier said: "Each country must honour its commitments to each other.

"When a country leaves the union, there is no punishment. There is no price to pay to leave. But we must settle the accounts.

"We will not ask the British to pay a single euro for something they have not agreed to as a member.

"In the same way, the 27 will also honour their commitments concerning the United Kingdom, its citizens, companies and regions. This is the mutually responsible way to act.

"If I may quote one of the greatest men of European history, Winston Churchill: 'The price of greatness is responsibility'.

"That is true for Britain and for us."

Mr Barnier also said EU nationals in the UK and British ex-pats on the continent will have to wait "several months" before their post-Brexit settlement rights can be guaranteed.

He said removing the uncertainty for both groups would be a "priority" in the exit negotiations, mirroring the Prime Minister's language.

But he warned: "The issues at play are complex, whether they are residency rights, access to the labour market, pension or social security rights, or access to education.

"We will work methodically on each of these points. We will not leave any detail untouched, and we are already working with all member states on this.

"It will take time, several months certainly. We must do serious legal work on this with the United Kingdom.

"But we can and we should agree, as soon as possible, on the principles of continuity, reciprocity and non-discrimination so as not to leave these citizens in a situation of uncertainty."

Mrs May, who will trigger Article 50 to begin the UK's exit on March 29, has made clear she is ready to walk away from negotiations if she deems it necessary, insisting "no deal is better than a bad deal".

Mr Barnier said the UK leaving with no deal would lead to:

:: The reintroduction of customs controls leading to queues of lorries at Dover.

:: "Very severe" air traffic disruption.

:: A suspension of the circulation of nuclear material in the UK as it would be outside Euratom.

:: Supply problems for British industry.

:: "Total uncertainty" for EU nationals in the UK and British citizens in Europe.

The Frenchman said: "The United Kingdom would be seriously affected by this situation: two-thirds of its trade is currently framed - and protected - by the single market and the free trade agreements concluded by the European Union with more than 60 partner states.

"The union would also be affected, even though we will continue to benefit from the single market of 27 and our free trade agreements in all cases.

"This scenario of a non-agreement, a no deal , is not ours. We want an agreement. We want to succeed. Success not against the British, but with them."

Mr Barnier said he was ready to strike a new free trade agreement with the UK, a key plank of Mrs May's strategy, given that she wants to leave the single market to gain control over immigration.

He warned the PM that Britain will "find itself mechanically in a less favourable position than a member state of the union".

He acknowledged that the UK is in a unique position to strike a trade deal as it currently complies with all EU standards and rules "perfectly", but said it will have to continue operating on a "level playing field", indicating it may have to keep some Brussels regulations.

"What is before us, therefore, is not the prospect of regulatory convergence but the risk, the likelihood of regulatory divergence that could harm the internal market," Mr Barnier said.

"We will, therefore, be vigilant that this regulatory divergence does not turn into regulatory dumping."

He went on: "To prevent this, we must ensure a level playing field and enforce them effectively.

"Guaranteeing this level playing field - these common rules of the game - will be essential.

"We agree with Theresa May when she calls for a bold and ambitious free trade agreement.

"Yes to ambition. But this ambition will also apply to the social, tax, environmental and consumer protection standards.

He added: "European citizens are quite rightly keen to preserve all those."

Mr Barnier also indicated that the UK would have to abide by European Court of Justice rulings during any transition phase after the country formally leaves by March 29 2019, but before new arrangements fully come into force.

"A number of transitional arrangements may be required," he said.

"It is too early to say.

"In any case, these possible arrangements would necessarily be governed by European law and the associated judicial system.

"Their duration would be strictly limited.

"And they would not be able to allow any one-size-fits-all market."