Belfast Telegraph

EU chiefs push Theresa May to say clearly how much UK will pay in 'divorce bill'

Theresa May has been urged by European Union leaders to spell out how much the UK will pay Brussels in a so-called divorce bill in order to secure progress on trade talks.

The Prime Minister repeated her promise that the UK will "honour our commitments" to the European Union as it leaves the bloc but came under pressure to go further.

Mrs May wants EU leaders to agree to move on to the second phase of Brexit talks covering the future trade relationship and a possible transitional period at a summit in Brussels next month.

She used a gathering of EU counterparts in Gothenburg to push her case - but was told "clarity" was needed on the divorce settlement and there was no guarantee of a breakthrough in December.

On the margins of a summit in the Swedish city, Mrs May met European Council chief Donald Tusk, French president Emmanuel Macron, Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni and Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar as she attempted to build support.

On the eve of the summit she met Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven, who said Mrs May needs to clarify what the financial settlement would cover, and it was "very difficult to say" whether trade talks would be given the go-ahead in December.

She also had an impromptu meeting with Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo in a Gothenburg restaurant on Thursday night.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said "the clock is ticking" and "work has still to be done" before the December 14-15 summit.

Ireland and the UK clashed over the Northern Irish border, one of the three areas on which "sufficient progress" needs to be made before trade talks can be given the green light.

The other issues on which progress will be judged are the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons on the continent and the so-called divorce bill.

Reports - dismissed as speculation by Downing Street - suggested Mrs May could be prepared to offer a further £20 billion in payments, which would bring to around £38 billion the total sum Britain is prepared to pay to settle its liabilities - well short of the 60 billion euro (£53 billion) sought by Brussels.

The Prime Minister said she hoped the European Union would respond positively to her Brexit approach.

But a Brussels source said Mr Tusk's message to the Prime Minister was that "such a positive scenario is not a given, it will require more work and that time is short".

Mrs May said as she arrived in Gothenburg: "We look forward to the December European Council. We are continuing to look through the issues.

"I was clear in my speech in Florence that we will honour our commitments.

"But of course we want to move forward together, talking about the trade issues and trade partnership for the future.

"I have set out a vision for that economic partnership, I look forward to the European Union responding positively to that so we can move forward together and ensure that we can get the best possible arrangements for the future that will be good for people in the United Kingdom and across the remaining EU27."

If leaders do not agree to move to the second phase at the summit in Brussels on December 14-15, then it could mean no progress until the next scheduled European Council in March.

That would add to business uncertainty and increase the potential for the UK to leave without a Brexit deal.

The meeting with French leader Mr Macron is significant because his country has been perceived as being a barrier to progressing to the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said many EU nations were now keen to move on to trade talks, but notably omitted Germany and France from his list.

Speaking to the BBC in Berlin on Friday morning, Mr Davis said: "Many of them do want to move on. They see it as very important to them.

"Countries like Denmark, countries like Holland, countries like Italy and Spain, countries like Poland can see the big, big benefits in the future deal we are talking about."

Downing Street said Mrs May and Mr Tusk acknowledged that there is "more work to be done" after "positive discussions" in Gothenburg.

The two leaders spoke about the "progress which had been made so far" in the negotiations on citizens' rights, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement, a Downing Street spokesman said.

"Prime Minister May and President Tusk agreed that there is more work to be done and discussed how to take further steps forward together in advance of the European Council in December."

In her "constructive" talks with Mr Macron they "looked forward to further progress being made" before the December summit.

"President Macron and the Prime Minister also discussed the strong bilateral relationship which exists between France and the UK and looked forward to building upon it further in coming months and years," the spokesman said.

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