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EU finalizes Brexit position as UK threatens to quit talks over ‘divorce pay’

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-05-2017 Joe Mayes

London: European Union (EU) ministers finalized their Brexit negotiating position a day after the UK threatened to quit talks on its departure unless the bloc drops its demands for a divorce payment as high as €100 billion ($112 billion).

Governments of the 27 remaining nations approved their mandate for the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier at a two-hour meeting in Brussels.

The size of Britain’s exit bill, and which types of negotiations can begin before it is determined, has been a source of debate for weeks and will prove an early test of the ability of both sides to find common ground.

Even a £1 billion settlement would be “a lot of money”, Brexit secretary David Davis said in an interview published in the Sunday Times.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said the UK will have to pay about £50 billion ($65 billion), while Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has signalled a figure between €40 billion and €60 billion. The Financial Times estimated the cost could balloon to €100 billion, while a study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales put the cost at as low as £5 billion.

19 June

As the EU officials gathered, British Prime Minister Theresa May was preparing a speech in Wales to again warn against jeopardizing the Brexit negotiations by electing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn amid reports the bloc wants talks to begin on 19 June, eleven days after the election.

“The UK’s seat at the negotiating table will be filled by me or Jeremy Corbyn,” May said, according to her office. “The deal we seek will be negotiated by me or Jeremy Corbyn. There will be no time to waste and no time for a new government to find its way. So the stakes in this election are high.”

Polls suggest the race is tightening with the Tory advantage over Labour halving to 9 percentage points from 18 percentage points, according to a Survation survey for Good Morning Britain released on Monday.

The European Parliament’s Brexit point man, Guy Verhofstadt, told the Sunday Times that “nothing will change” in the EU because of how the UK votes.

May’s government has said it will meet its commitments to the EU, but she’s questioned how officials in Brussels reached their preliminary estimates.

‘Walk away’

“We don’t need to just look like we can walk away, we need to be able to walk away,” Davis said. “Under the circumstances, if that was necessary, we would be in a position to do it.”

Davis predicted the negotiations will be “fairly turbulent” and said he would reject any blueprint for discussions that requires the issues of the divorce bill, EU citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland’s border to be solved before talks can begin on future trade.

“The first crisis or argument is going to be over sequencing,” he said.

May also weighed in on the Brexit bill, telling the Sunday Telegraph that “money paid in the past” by the UK into joint EU projects and the European Investment Bank ought to be taken account in the final sum.

“There is much debate about what the UK’s obligations might be or indeed what our rights might be,” she said. “We make it clear that we would look at those both rights and obligations.” Bloomberg

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