Boris Johnson insisted on Sunday that the UK would not pay the full bill for the £ 39bn divorce in the event of a no-deal Brexit on October 31, as EU officials have said it It was up to Great Britain “squarely and firmly” to find a solution to the problem. controversial Irish border issue.
At the G7 summit in Biarritz, the British Prime Minister held a cordial meeting with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, without however leaving any sign of a breakthrough on a revised Brexit deal.
Mr Johnson said the odds of a deal were “improving” but that it was “touch and go” if one could be done.
The Prime Minister is seeking to renegotiate the UK-EU withdrawal agreement finalized by his predecessor Theresa May – notably by removing the so-called backstop which aims to prevent the return of a hard Irish border. EU leaders have given Britain the responsibility of finding workable solutions.
Mr Johnson has said the UK will not be forced to hand over a significant chunk of the £ 39bn divorce bill if a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31.
“If we go out [of the EU] without a deal, it is certainly true that the £ 39 billion is no longer, strictly speaking, due, ”he told ITV. “There will be very substantial sums available to our country to devote to our priorities. It is not a threat, it is a simple fact.
A Downing Street spokesperson declined to say how much of the divorce bill the UK would pay in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson is insisting that the UK leave the EU on October 31, with or without a deal.
Part of the £ 39 billion divorce bill is due to the UK pledging contributions to the EU budget that have yet to be paid. Britain is also invited to contribute to EU staff pension costs incurred before Brexit.
The EU has consistently rejected suggestions from the UK that it should not have to pay part or all of the £ 39 billion divorce bill. An EU official said the money would expire even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, as it was tied to financial commitments Britain made.
The official added: “This is all about UK obligations. For us, it is due whatever the circumstances. It will be calculated when leaving the United Kingdom.
A senior EU diplomat said talks between Mr Johnson and Mr Tusk had proceeded in a “positive atmosphere”, with Brexit taking about half of their time, but there had been no discussion of the £ 39bn Divorce Bill.
The diplomat pointed to the skepticism of the other 27 EU member states that the UK has viable alternative arrangements that will remove the need for Irish support.
“The ball is really squarely and firmly in the British court,” he said. “They told the press that they have new ideas and that they will come up eventually. But they didn’t come today.
“The brutal fact is that there is nothing. Alternative arrangements have always been part of the deal, but we still don’t know what they look like.
However, the diplomat said he was “reassuring” that one of Mr Johnson’s first points to Mr Tusk was that he did not want a no-deal Brexit.
The two men agreed to meet again on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September, he added.
EU27 officials have been keen to avoid what they see as a possible UK attempt to blame them for chaos after a no-deal Brexit.
They stressed that they were ready to take seriously any credible British suggestion to change the political declaration on the future relationship between the two sides, but not the withdrawal agreement.
Mr Johnson appeared to want to temper expectations for a breakthrough on a revised Brexit deal, while also stressing that the EU is engaging with him.
He told Sky News that it was still possible to strike a deal, noting a “change of mood” among EU leaders.
Two Sunday papers reported that Downing Street was considering a general election in mid-October, on the assumption that if the Tories won it would give Mr Johnson a mandate to strike a revised deal with the EU.
But Number 10 insiders said the public continued to strongly oppose an election and the government would not seek one. “The Prime Minister is not planning this,” said a British official. The focus would instead be on achieving the results of the 2016 referendum.
Downing Street evaded a newspaper article that Mr Johnson was considering suspending Parliament in September, potentially for several weeks, in order to prevent MPs from thwarting a no-deal on October 31.
“The Prime Minister is clear that he will not prevent MPs from debating Brexit in parliament,” said a senior government official.
Letter in response to this article:
A chance to solve the backstop deadlock / By Nicholas Boyle, University of Cambridge, UK