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- Theresa May’s cabinet agrees to increase Brexit divorce bill offer to £40 billion.
- The prime minister has won the backing of pro-Brexit ministers such as Boris Johnson.
- EU withdrawal bill returns to Parliament with the government under pressure to avoid defeat.
LONDON – Theresa May’s cabinet has agreed to increase the UK’s financial offer to the European Union for the Brexit divorce bill to £40 billion in an attempt to break the deadlock in negotiations.
The prime minister won the backing of key cabinet ministers at a meeting of her new Brexit sub-committee, who accepted that a bigger divorce bill was needed to see movement on trade and transition in talks with the EU.
The ministers, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, also agreed that the government should be prepared to withdraw their financial offer if they were unhappy with the final deal.
May was under pressure to make an increased financial offer in order to meet “sufficient progress” in the first round of negotiations, which will be debated at a summit of the European Council in December.
Talks will only be allowed to advance to the second round if sufficient progress is made on three key issues: the financial settlement, the Irish border and citizens’ rights.
Earlier in November, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned the UK it had two weeks to make clear its position on the divorce bill in order to allow the possibility of talks moving on to the question of the future EU-UK relationship.
A specific figure was not discussed at the Brexit sub-committee, but it is expected that it could reach £40 billion. A Downing Street source told the Guardian: “It remains our position that nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed in negotiations with the EU.”
Brussels will likely be relieved that the government has finally decided on its approach to the financial settlement, but they will need time to pick apart the UK’s offer before responding.
May has achieved a small victory in managing to convince her most pro-Brexit ministers, including Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, that an increased offer is required.
The UK’s negotiating team will set out to the EU how they believe the financial settlement should be calculated, which reportedly will add £20 billion on top of the £20 billion May indicated the UK will pay in her Florence speech.
The sub-committee also included ministers who voted remain, including Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Chancellor Philip Hammond. It is believed to be the first time part of the cabinet has formally discussed what the future UK-EU relationship will look like.
Withdrawal bill returns
The government is facing a possible defeat over an amendment to the withdrawal bill that aims to enshrine the EU’s charter of fundamental rights in UK law after Brexit.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said his party would vote to support the amendment, which is thought to be backed by rebel opposition MPs.
MPs are been debating amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill this week, as the legislation is at committee stage in the House of Commons.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve is one Conservative rebel who backs bringing the charter of fundamental rights into UK law and might force the government to make a concession or face an embarrassing defeat.
Grieve told the Guardian: “Throughout this process, in respect to these types of amendments, the purpose is not to defeat the government but concentrate the government’s mind on to the consequences of the changes and to ask it to reconsider its approach.”
Starmer said: “Labour will not let the government use Brexit as an excuse to roll back fundamental rights. The charter is vital for ensuring the rights of people living in the UK are protected, including the elderly and those from the LGBT community. And yet, ministers want to drop it for the sake of appealing to the extreme voices in the Tory party.”