EU warns the UK it has just two weeks to settle the Brexit divorce bill

  • EU chief negotiator warns Britain that it has just two weeks to make its position clear on the Brexit divorce bill.
  • Failure to do so will mean that talks over Britain’s future relationship with the EU and a transition deal will be blocked.
  • David Davis talks down prospect of immediate breakthrough.
  • Theresa May is reportedly privately resigned to paying tens of billions more to the EU.

LONDON – Future Brexit negotiations will be put on hold unless Britain makes its position clear on its divorce bill within the next two weeks, the EU’s chief negotiator warned today.

The EU is set to decide by the end of the month whether the next phase of negotiations, on Britain’s future relationship with the EU, can begin in December.

However, asked this afternoon whether Britain would need to make clear its commitment to pay tens of billions of pounds to the EU within the next two weeks in order to move talks on, Michel Barnier replied: “My answer is yes.”

He added: “If there is not real and sincere progress that will put back the opening of discussions on the future – that includes transition.”

The next phase of talks was originally intended to begin last month but was put on hold after they hit what the EU described as a “deadlock” over the size of Britain’s divorce bill.

Speaking alongside the Brexit secretary David Davis, Barnier said there had been no significant breakthrough after the latest round of negotiations, which ended this morning.

Meanwhile, Davis talked down the prospect of significant progress, saying only that “this week has enabled us to consolidate the progress of earlier negotiating rounds and to draw out those areas where further political and technical discussion is required.”

News of a possible further delay to Brexit negotiations will only add to worsening public perception of the state of talks. A new YouGov poll out today finds that only one in five British people now believe Brexit talks are going well.

May resigned to paying Brexit bill

Barnier’s comments come as UK government figures indicate that Prime Minister May is prepared to significantly increase the amount Britain is prepared to pay as part of its financial settlement.

Senior UK ministers and officials have told the Financial Times that May has now resigned herself to settling a bill well in excess of the €20 billion she has already pledged.

The government believes that Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, who had previously pushed for Britain to pay nothing at all to leave, are now willing to accept a large payout, as long as Britain achieves a clean Brexit from the EU.

“The money isn’t the problem,” one senior minister told the paper. “The real problem is deciding what our end-state relationship with the EU will be.” Another government figure added: “The domestic political obstacles to a deal may not be as high as they once seemed.”

One Eurosceptic backbencher told the paper that the tens of billions extra requested by the EU was “money down the back of the sofa,” in order to get the sort of Brexit they want.

Any acceptance of a large Brexit bill would mark a significant surrender by hardline Brexiteers in the Conservative party. The foreign secretary Boris Johnson said in July that the EU could “go whistle” if they expected Britain to pay up.

“The sums they [the EU] propose seem to be extortionate and I think go whistle is an entirely appropriate expression,” Johnson told MPs.

However, Britain’s refusal to discuss its divorce bill has thrown the talks into “deadlock” with the EU last month refusing to progress negotiations onto the next phase on Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

With business groups calling on the government to secure a transition deal, at least in principle, by the start of next year, Downing Street is under growing pressure to change its approach before the current past of talks conclude in December.