UK and EU still at odds over Brexit bill despite May's budget pledge

29 September 2017 1:51pm

🔊 Podcast: Brexit negotiations continue in the shadow of May's Florence speech

Listen in as MLex's Managing Editor in Brussels James Panichi is joined by Senior Political Correspondent Simon Taylor and UK-EU Correspondent Matthew Holehouse for a lively discussion covering the Brexit negotiations in the aftermath of Theresa May's Florence speech.

25 September 2017. By Simon Taylor

The UK's negotiation with the EU of its Brexit bill remains unresolved despite Prime Minister Theresa May's promise last week to honor the country's obligations after it leaves the bloc.

Speaking in Brussels today, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said a detailed settlement of the UK's financial obligations was necessary before talks could start on a trade deal.

His remarks today came after the first day of the latest round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels, and three days after a speech by May in which she said the UK would honor commitments to pay toward the EU's budget until 2020.

"We are not going to mix up discussions on debts and past commitments, subjects which are part of the orderly withdrawal, with a discussion on our future relationship," Barnier said, although he did welcome May's speech as "a constructive step." 

May had made the link between Britain settling its debts and remaining part of the EU's single market during a transition period after it formally leaves the bloc on March 30, 2019.

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis quickly challenged Barnier's position that Britain should clarify its position on its outstanding debts first.

Speaking alongside Barnier ahead of start of the fourth round of negotiations, Davis said: "The UK will honor commitments we have made during the period of our membership. But it's obvious that reaching a conclusion on this issue can only be done in the context of, and in accordance with, our new deep and special partnership with the EU."

May's pledge to pay Britain's outstanding contribution for the final two years of the EU's 2014 to 2020 budget is estimated at around 20 billion euros ($24 billion). She didn't mention a precise figure in her speech.

The EU has estimated that the total amount the UK should pay is between 60 billion euros to 100 billion euros, though Barnier has never given a precise figure.

Barnier said he was looking forward to the UK translating May's pledges into "clear negotiating positions."

The UK isn't expected to publish a paper on the financial settlement this week while the negotiations are taking place. But British officials are expected to explain the thinking behind May's speech in meetings with their EU counterparts this week.

Brexit Special Report