Bri­tain must stand firm on Brexit bill, say Boris al­lies

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Steven Swin­ford and Peter Foster

BRI­TAIN must not cave in to EU de­mands for a big­ger Brexit divorce bill af­ter Brus­sels set a two-week dead­line for the UK to im­prove its offer, al­lies of Boris John­son have warned.

Michel Barnier, the EU’S chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor, yes­ter­day said Bri­tain must show “real and sin­cere progress” on the Brexit bill if it wants to break the dead­lock by the end of the year.

It comes amid re­ports that Theresa May is pre­par­ing to in­crease the UK’S offer to the EU af­ter Brus­sels said that the €20bil­lion (£18bil­lion) she had al­ready com­mit­ted was not enough. The EU wants at least €60bil­lion.

The For­eign Sec­re­tary, who has pre­vi­ously said that the EU can “go whis­tle” if it wants a huge divorce bill, is un­der­stood to be­lieve that the UK must hold its nerve ahead of the De­cem­ber summit. An ally of Mr John­son said: “You don’t pay your bill at a restau­rant half­way through; you pay at the end. That’s sen­si­ble busi­ness.”

Last night sources close to the Bri­tish ne­go­ti­a­tions warned the EU that Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions would “col­lapse” if it does not take a more rea­son­able ap­proach to talks.

Tory Eu­roscep­tics have warned the Brexit divorce bill is “crit­i­cal” and that the UK can­not af­ford to give any more ground. Iain Dun­can Smith, a Tory MP and for­mer Con­ser­va­tive leader, told The Daily Tele­graph: “They think we blinked in Florence and now they be­lieve we will blink again. We must not blink.

“The one big hand we have is money. They are des­per­ate. If we give away that we give away any chance of get­ting a good free trade agree­ment. The two get de­cided at the same time.

“The money is crit­i­cal, we can­not

give any more ground on this. Tory Eu­roscep­tics are get­ting re­ally un­nerved by this. It is stretch­ing them to break­ing.”

Se­nior EU diplo­mats told The Daily Tele­graph that the UK must com­mit to pay­ing out­stand­ing bud­get con­tri­bu­tions, pen­sions and other li­a­bil­i­ties if it wants to make progress with talks.

“Trust has suf­fered a lot in the last few months, and the pos­si­ble in­ter­pre­ta­tions of what these items stand for are very broad,” the source said.

“So we need all three to be men­tioned, and only then we need to work on the amount.”

How­ever, the UK is dis­put­ing the way that the EU is cal­cu­lat­ing the bill and be­lieves that the weaker pound means the UK should pay con­sid­er­ably less than the €60bil­lion ex­pected. A UK source said: “The prob­lem is that it is disin­gen­u­ous – to put it mildly – for the EU to sug­gest that they just want us to say a sin­gle sen­tence to move on.

“They say they don’t want to gen­er­ate ‘a num­ber’ but they want to de­fine what that sen­tence means in such a way that, in prac­tice, those com­mit­ments are de­fined within a very nar­row band.”

Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors say that the UK would, in the­ory, be pre­pared to dis­cuss the prin­ci­ples of the Brexit divorce bill but do not want to give away their hand.

An­other source fa­mil­iar with Bri­tain’s ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion warned: “If the de­mands for suf­fi­cient progress be­come too big, there is risk that the whole process will col­lapse.”

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