UK Brexit secretary David Davis has dismissed as “nonsense” reports that Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed that Britain should pay a £50 billion EU “divorce bill”. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Davis claimed that his EU counterparts are trying to “play time against money” to pressure the UK into paying a bigger settlement bill than it should. Davis’s comments came in response to an article in The Times which quoted a “close ally” of Theresa May and other senior Conservative sources as saying that the Prime Minister had agreed to the figure of £50 billion and that this would be announced after the Conservative party conference in October.
The report will put further pressure on the Prime Minister who is looking to firm up her support at the conference while facing down backbenchers who insist that the UK should not be forced to pay anything after leaving the EU. It also comes just before the Withdrawal Bill, which will transfer EU legislation into UK domestic law, is due to be debated in the House of Commons.
Earlier in the week, a mild war of words broke out between Davis and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier after the conclusion of the third round of Brexit negotiations, with Barnier reportedly saying that Britain needed to be “educated” on the consequences of Brexit, a comment which many in the British media characterised as condescending. For his part, Davis said that it was “silly” of the Barnier to say that little progress had been made during the negotiations, pointing to agreements on health and social security contributions for Britons living in the EU and the rights of Britons working across EU borders.
The UK had been hoping to begin negotiating a future trade deal with the EU in October, but this is now considered to be unlikely given the slow pace of the talks so far. The next round of negotiations is due to begin on September 18.