Theresa May says no Brexit divorce bill agreed ‘until everything’ is resolved
Mrs May insisted that the UK was “still in negotiations” with the EU.
Prime Minister Theresa May has denied that the UK has agreed a Brexit “divorce bill” with the European Union, amid reports of a deal which could see Britain pay up to £50 billion.
Mrs May insisted that the UK was “still in negotiations” with the EU and that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
Officials close to the talks in Brussels were widely reported on Tuesday as saying that broad agreement has been reached on a framework for the UK to settle liabilities expected to total around 45-55 billion euros (£40-£49 billion).
But UK authorities said they did not “recognise” the figures.
In a round of TV interviews during a visit to Iraq, Mrs May was asked directly whether the UK had agreed how much it would pay the EU.
She replied: “No, we are still in negotiations with the European Union… As the EU themselves have said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Mrs May repeated her call for the UK and EU to “move in step together” to trigger the second phase of Brexit talks, dealing with trade and security, at a crunch summit of member-states’ leaders in the European Council on December 14-15.
She is due to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday for talks which it is hoped will allow the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to give his blessing for the second phase by declaring that “sufficient progress” has been made on the divorce issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border.
In a statement released by the Commission early on Wednesday, Mr Barnier cautioned that agreement on the divorce was “not there yet” and he was still waiting for “sufficient progress from London”.
But speaking later in the day in Berlin, he sounded a more optimistic note: “We are working really hard on these subjects and I just wish and hope that, when the European Council meets in a few days’ time, I can report that we have negotiated that deal and we have reached a very important step in our relationship.
“If we find that very important agreement in the next few days, we are expecting that in 2018 the European Council will set a new framework for this new partnership with the UK.”
However, differences with Dublin over the status of the border could still block progress next month.
Ireland holds a veto on the green-light for trade talks, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday that the “very strong” solidarity offered by the 26 other remaining EU states meant that he would not even have to wield it if Dublin was not happy with Britain’s offer.
Mrs May said she was “optimistic” that the negotiations will produce a good deal for both the UK and EU.
“We are working hard with the EU to ensure that we can move together, but what I am clear about is that we need to move together,” she said.
“We are working hard to ensure that we get the movement onto the trade talks, that I think is not just our interests, but in the interests of the rest of the EU.”
She appeared to contradict reports that the Government is preparing to offer a concession on EU citizens’ rights, by giving the UK Supreme Court the power to refer cases up to the European Court of Justice where it felt unqualified to adjudicate on them.
Departure from the EU will deliver “the end to the jurisdiction of the ECJ over people in the UK”, she said.
It is thought unlikely that either the EU or UK will ever put a precise figure on the financial settlement, which covers a complex array of liabilities including funding for projects to which Britain signed up as an EU member, loans which have not yet been repaid, and pensions for European Commission civil servants.
Unofficial calculations have put the gross figure at around 100 billion euro (£88 billion), but deductions for items such as the UK rebate and Britain’s share of the European Investment Bank could reduce the net sum to about half that.
Payments would be made over many years as liabilities fall due, so the final total may not be known for decades.
Mrs May faced a backlash from some Conservative eurosceptics in the House of Commons, with MP Peter Bone warning that it would be “betraying the trust of the British people” to hand over billions to Brussels rather than spending it on the NHS, social care and defence.
Jacob Rees-Mogg said there was “growing concern that Her Majesty’s Government seems in these negotiations to be dancing to the tune of the European Commission”.
Ukip’s former leader Nigel Farage denounced the reported bill as a “sellout”, telling the European Parliament that “Christmas has come early” for Brussels’ budget commissioner.
I have always argued that no deal is better than a bad deal. Make no mistake about it - €55bn to Leave the EU is a very, very bad deal. pic.twitter.com/hfMEXGKolg— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) November 28, 2017
But other prominent Brexiteers held back from dissent over the reported figure.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – who previously said the EU could “go whistle” for a large payment – said: “What we want to see is progress towards the second phase of the negotiations… It’s a fantastic opportunity now to get going. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time – 18 months or so. Now is the moment to get the ship off the rocks and move it forwards.”
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 5 Live that even a divorce bill over £40 billion would be “a good bargain” because the UK would save “staggering amounts of money” on contributions to the EU budgets over the long term.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said that any “divorce bill” for Brexit will be dependent on the UK getting a good deal on future trade.
Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, Ms Truss said: “As we have said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
“Any settlement that we make is contingent on us securing a suitable outcome.”