Brexit negotiators clash on €75 billion divorce bill

UK negotiators are not planning to present their own estimate of financial obligations owed to the EU on Brexit during this week’s round of negotiations, officials said

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier

Divisions over the UK’s Brexit divorce bill were exposed on Tuesday as British negotiators pushed back against a mooted €75bn Brexit charge-sheet.

On the second day of detailed Brexit negotiations, the British team peppered the Brussels side with questions over how to pay for unwinding 44 years of the UK’s European Union membership.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has never put a number on the UK’s exit bill, but estimates have ranged from a €20 billion - €100 billion gross figure – the €100bn is a gross figure that works out at about €75bn net.

But, despite warnings from EU diplomats that Barnier is prepared to “stall” talks unless proposals are put forward by the UK, the British side views this week’s round of talks as an opportunity to interrogate the EU’s position, and is not planning to present its own estimate of financial obligations owed to the EU, according to a UK official familiar with the progress of talks.

The stance of British Brexit negotiators is consistent with UK Brexit Secretary David Davis’ statement to a House of Lords committee that the “proper approach to get the right outcome in the negotiation” would be to “challenge” the EU’s calculations. Davis told the committee last week the UK “may well publish an alternative proposal.”

A statement to parliament on Thursday that the UK has financial “obligations” from its EU membership helped defuse a potentially toxic row brewing between the two sides, after the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said Brussels should “go whistle” for the money.

But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was clear this would not happen this week. It is not clear when an alternative will be published by the UK government.

Barnier will not try to pin the British down to a number, when he reports back to EU leaders on whether the British have made “sufficient progress” at a Brussels summit in October.

The final Brexit bill is unlikely to emerge until the last hours of negotiations. Seasoned Brussels negotiators think a deal is most likely to emerge at a late-night summit of EU leaders in the autumn of 2018.

More in Europe