Conservative MPs are divided over whether the PM should stump up more cash to unlock negotiationsby Alex Dean / November 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
This week, David Davis warned European Union leaders not to put “politics above prosperity” and urged them to soften their Brexit stance. Donald Tusk said in response that he appreciated Davis’s “English sense of humour.”
It was a good line—and the joke landed because Britain is so obviously the more chaotic of the two negotiating partners. Months on from the triggering of Article 50, the British government—and the Tory Party at large—is unable to agree on the most fundamental Brexit questions confronting it. These concern the Irish border, EU citizens’ rights and the Brexit “divorce bill,” which I want to focus on here.
The issue is this. The European Union believes that in light of its exit, Britain owes a substantial fee because of commitments made while it was a member state, on things like the pensions of Britons working in European institutions. Also factored in are road, rail and other investment projects which the UK agreed to contribute towards but which won’t be finished until after exit, and the administrative cost of the withdrawal process itself.
Initially, the UK refused to recognise any of this. After some huffing and puffing, it eventually conceded that it would pay €20bn—and was laughed out of the room. Yesterday, Tusk confirmed that the Union “needs to see much more progress on this issue.” They want more money.
If Britain fails to pay up, the consequences could be severe. The EU would likely decide that “sufficient progress” had not been made in negotiations so far, and refuse to move to trade discussions with Britain at its December summit. This would be a blow for the UK, which sends almost half its exports to the EU market and seven months after A50 was triggered is desperate to get things moving.
Theresa May has reportedly signalled in private that she could up the offer to €40bn. But would this be enough? The EU is rumoured to be holding out for tens of billions more than that. And if May does look to hand over more cash, will her MPs stand for it?
The PM is in a precarious position to say the least. With a wafer thin majority, half her MPs are urging a tougher line with the EU and other, more pragmatic half are urging concessions to unlock talks. Discussion with senior figures in the party confirmed the extent of the split, and the challenge May faces in finding a way forward.