Britain’s Brexit divorce bill: Theresa May to offer EU more cash

Theresa May has won the go-ahead from senior ministers to increase Britain’s Brexit divorce bill offer to as high as £40bn in return for a concrete promise from European Union leaders to move on to trade talks.

She hopes the move, which she will make shortly before an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels next month, will give new impetus to the stalled negotiations over the terms of Britain’s departure from the bloc.

But the commitment risks a backlash from Tory MPs, and one warned the public would “go completely bananas” if the government promised such a large sum.

Mrs May secured the agreement – described by one source as a “delicate compromise” between the Cabinet’s Leavers and Remainers – at a lengthy meeting of ministers in Downing Street.
They agreed that she should raise the offer, but only if EU leaders provided a firm pledge to widen negotiations to discuss trade and the details of a transition deal to smooth Britain’s exit from the EU.

Negotiations over the size of Britain’s exit payment have proved the main sticking-point – along with the future status of the Irish border – in negotiations to date.

EU negotiators, who are thought to be pressing for an exit payment of around £55bn, have insisted talks cannot be widened until “sufficient progress” has been achieved in talks over the “divorce bill”.

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street

The ministerial committee which last night approved the move included key pro-Brexit ministers Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and David Davis, as well as Remain-supporting ministers such as Damian Green and Amber Rudd.

It is understood that no firm sums were discussed at the meeting, but that Mrs May was given permission to raise the UK offer as long as it was clear the EU was negotiating in good faith.

Mrs May has always insisted Britain would honour its commitments with the EU for the bloc’s current budgetary cycle and yesterday said Britain and the EU should “step forward together”.

A Downing Street source said after the meeting: “It remains our position that nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed in negotiations with the EU.”

However, Mrs May was threatened with a Tory rebellion over suggestions that Britain’s exit bill could double to £40bn.

The former minister Robert Halfon said there was a “widespread” view among MPs that any spare money must be spent in the UK.

“The idea of giving the EU £40 billion is horrendous when we have a huge public sector deficit,” he said.

“Most people would go completely bananas if we suddenly found £40 billion for the European Union when they are worried about money for their local hospital, college or local housing.”

Henry Smith said: “Especially as Germany struggles to form a government, now is not the time for Britain to offer more money than her obligations are due in EU Brexit negotiations.

Another Tory MP, Nigel Evans, said any money saved by leaving the EU should be “spent on British nurses not on Brussels bureaucrats”.

He told the BBC: “Yes we will have obligations, but we’re not going to pay ransom money simply to leave the European Union.”

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