Brexit negotiations are grinding to a halt as Britain refuses to discuss divorce bill

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David Davis and Michel Barnier
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Wiktor Dabkowski/DPA/PA Images

    Brexit Secretary refuses to put a figure on what Britain is willing to pay in divorce proceedings. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson has previously suggested the EU can “go whistle” for the fee. A bill of up to €100 billion is being considered by EU diplomats. Former UK diplomat to EU speaks to Business Insider about chaotic British approach to talks.

LONDON – Brexit negotiations are stalling as Britain refuses to state how much it is prepared to pay as a divorce bill.

EU negotiators are refusing to discuss Britain’s future trading relationship with Europe until the question of the UK’s divorce proceedings have progressed, yet the UK is unwilling to put forward its own figure.

Figures of up €100 billion in unpaid UK obligations are reportedly being considered by the EU.

However, the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, who left Brussels on Monday after just one hour of talks, has refused to talk about a figure for the divorce bill, insisting that the EU must put forward their own figure first.

Davis’s refusal follows comments from the foreign secretary last week that the EU can “go whistle” if it expects a large bill.

One former UK diplomat to the EU told Business Insider that Johnson’s comments, which were later dismissed by other UK government figures, had damaged Britain’s standing in the talks.

“When Boris Johnson said that they could ‘go whistle’ it was noted and seen,” former member of UKREP, Steve Bullock, said.

“All this cabinet infighting and all these leaks for certain sections of the press are just huge own-goals. What people say most is ‘are these people serious?'”

One EU diplomat told Politico that the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, had been frustrated by the chaotic start to talks.

“Barnier’s expectations going into the talks were very low, but even so he is quiet frustrated so far,” the diplomat said.

Another diplomat told the website that refusal to discuss the bill was jeopardising talks.

“If the U.K. is not committed to acknowledging its obligations, then there is no real conversation on this topic, which will jeopardise progress on the talks for the entire first negotiating phase,” the official said.

May handling Brexit in “worst way” possible”

Former members of UKREP, Bullock, told BI that prime minister Theresa May was handling the Brexit negotiations in the “worst way” possible.

“We have lots of experts in Whitehall. Hundreds of them. There are lots of senior civil servants who have worked extensively with the EU,” the former diplomat said.

“And yet we seem to have completely ignored all advice and any concept of there being a strategy.”

“If someone had asked me in August ‘okay what would be the absolute worst way to approach this?’ I don’t think I could have done it as badly as government ministers are right now.”

Bullock echoed Barnier’s comments last week that the “clock is ticking” on talks and dismissed suggestions from Davis that a new trade deal could be completed within the two year negotiation period allowed within Article 50.

“They are dealing with Northern Ireland this week. They are dealing with citizens rights this week and the financial settlement too. I can’t think that there is going to be a solution to any of them coming this week – and that’s another month gone until the next round.”

“Also, don’t forget that the agreement can’t be reached in March 2019. It has to be reached in October 2018 at the very latest as it will have to be ratified by EU parliaments as well. The idea that the entire deal will be done within the two years I find impossible to believe. Even with the best will in the world, it cannot be done.”