- REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
- Theresa May set to try and persuade European leaders to approve talks on future UK-EU trade beginning in autumn. This would be an act of defiance against the EU’s most senior figures who say trade talks cannot begin until the Brexit divorce bill is settled. Brexit Secretary David Davis wants the EU to prove its divorce bill demands are legal.
LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May is set to bypass EU negotiators and go head-to-head with the European Union’s most senior figures in an attempt to convince member states that talks on Britain’s future relationship with the EU should begin in the autumn.
Negotiations between British and EU negotiators have hit a wall due to the UK side’s refusal to address the issue of the financial obligations Britain must pay upon departure, or the “divorce bill” as it’s more commonly known.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said on numerous occasions that talks on future trade relations between the UK and the EU will not start until “sufficient progress” has been made on the divorce bill, citizens’ rights, and the Irish border.
The Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) has this month published position papers on citizens’ rights and the Irish border but has so far offered no formal proposals on the divorce bill. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker this week described the papers as “not satisfactory” and added that an “enormous amount of issues” must be resolved when talks restart this week, chiefly the size of the divorce bill.
Yet, despite this, Prime Minister May will use her appearance at October’s European summit to appeal to leaders of EU member states to approve the beginning of trade talks in October, as originally scheduled, the Times reports.
The prime minister plans to tell the summit that Britain is willing to hand over a significant amount of money to Brussels as part of Brexit but only as part of a wider deal that’ll allow it privileged access to the single market and a customs arrangement during a transitional period. May could even approach leaders individually prior to the summit getting underway, the Times report adds.
Both Barnier and Juncker have been steadfast in their insistence that talks on future trade cannot begin until the divorce bill has been settled but the Times reports there may be sympathy for Britain among some member states.
“Mr Juncker says it’s ‘crystal clear’ that we can’t talk about the future relationship before solving divorce issues, but this is a decision to be taken by the EU 27, not the commission,” a government source claimed. “Some heads of state say it’s ‘common sense’ to have a discussion about both.”
The belief within May’s government is that it is impossible to make “sufficient progress” on preliminary issues like the divorce bill without at the same time addressing what the future UK-EU relationship will look like.
The divorce bill has become a major sticking point in negotiations between Britain and the EU.
Brexit Secretary David Davis and his negotiating team are demanding officials in Brussels produce legal clarification regarding the amount of money it is demanding the UK hand over on its way out of the 28-nation bloc, the Guardian reports.Davis has so far refused to publicise a figure the British side is willing to pay in the belief that disclosing any figure would be a bad negotiating tactic. Recent reports suggest the total figure could be around £30 billion.
72% of Brits believe it would be unacceptable to pay the EU £30 billion as part of Brexit, according to an ICM poll published on Tuesday. A majority of respondents, 65%, said a bill of £20 billion would be unacceptable, while 41% said even a bill worth £10 billion would be unacceptable.