The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has given the UK two weeks to clarify how much money it is willing to pay as part of its financial settlement with the EU before it leaves the bloc in 2019. Barnier confirmed the deadline at a press conference after the conclusion of the sixth round of Brexit talks in Brussels on Friday. Asked if the UK needed to provide a figure for the so-called divorce bill before an EU summit taking place in December, Barnier said: “My answer is yes.” British negotiators, who are reluctant to publicly commit to a figure for fear of a backlash from Brexit hardliners, want the talks to move on the UK’s future trade relationship with the bloc. Brussels has said that this won’t be possible until significant progress has been made on the issues of the divorce bill, the Northern Irish border and rights of EU citizens.
Last May in Florence the Prime Minister said that the UK will keep to its commitment to pay into the EU budget until 2020 but declined to say how much. Theresa May will be under enormous pressure to find a resolution that satisfies both Brussels, which estimates the bill to be between 50 to 100 billion pounds, and those members of her own party who reject the idea that the UK owes Europe any money at all.
On Sunday, Michel Barnier told a French newspaper that the EU is now preparing for a no deal scenario where the Brexit deadline of March 2019 is reached without the two parties agreeing to a future trade arrangement. In this case, the basis for trade between the UK and the EU will revert to World Trade tariffs. “That’s not my preferred option … but it’s a possibility. Everyone has to prepare for it, states as well as businesses – we are technically preparing ourselves,” Barnier said.