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Britain must ‘settle accounts’ before free trade deal, Brexit negotiator says

Michel Barier made the comments ahead of a keynote speech by Theresa May in Florence on Friday.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has issued a fresh warning that Britain must “settle the accounts” if it wants a free trade deal when it leaves the bloc.

Speaking ahead of a keynote speech by Theresa May in Florence on Friday, Michel Barnier said there was still “major uncertainty” over the UK’s approach on key issues.

The Prime Minister is expected to use her address to set out her proposals to end the deadlock in the talks in Brussels.

It is reported she will travel to Italy with an assurance the UK will continue to pay into the EU until the end of the current budget round in 2020, ensuring it is not left with a black hole in the finances.

Speaking in the Italian parliament, Mr Barnier – who has made clear he is not prepared to open negotiations on a free trade deal until the issue is settled – said he would be listening “attentively and constructively” to what she had to say.

“All that is necessary in this negotiation is that everyone honours the commitments that they have made to each other. To settle the accounts. No more, no less,” he said.

Barnier made his comments while addressing the Italian parliament (Claudio Peri/ANSA via AP)

“Beyond money, this is a question of trust between the 27 and the United Kingdom, based on the respect of one’s signature.

“Everyone knows that we will need this trust to create a solid relationship in the future.”

Mrs May – who flew back from the United Nations General Assembly in New York overnight – briefed ministers on the speech in a special session of the Cabinet.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Theresa May during the United Nations General Assembly in New York (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Although it is not thought she will state an actual figure for the “divorce bill”, it has been reported she is willing to stump up between £20 billion and £30 billion to end the deadlock.

Following the marathon two-and-half hour session, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – who have been at loggerheads all summer over Brexit – left No 10 together in an apparent show of unity.

While she may have secured agreement on the immediate issue of the financial settlement, finding a common position on the shape of the future arrangements with the EU could, however, prove more problematic.

Ministers would appear to be divided between those like Mr Hammond who favour a Swiss-style deal in which Britain would continue to pay for access to the single market and those like Mr Johnson, who want a looser arrangement along the lines of the EU’s free trade agreement with Canada.

Mrs May has sought to bridge the gap, insisting it is not a “binary” choice and she would be seeking a “bespoke” arrangement for the UK rather than following a pre-existing, “off-the-shelf” model.

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