Chancellor says U.K. on cusp of breaking negotiation ‘logjam’
Members of May’s cabinet to meet Monday to discuss Brexit
The U.K. could be about to improve its financial offer to the European Union ahead of a crucial meeting of the bloc’s leaders in December.
Members of Prime Minister Theresa May’s divided cabinet will consider Britain’s divorce from the EU at a meeting Monday of the Brexit cabinet sub-committee that could be key to unlocking the most controversial matter in the negotiations — money.
Britain is “on the brink of making some serious movement forward” and starting to break the “logjam,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond told the BBC on Sunday.
While Hammond is among the most pro-European members of cabinet, his suggestion follows Brexit Secretary David Davis’s hint from Berlin on Friday that more details on a financial settlement would be presented within weeks. With businesses clamoring for clarity and the departure just 16 months away, pressure is mounting to break the impasse.
The Times said that while the government wouldn’t put a figure on it, it was likely to add another 20 billion euros to what it’s already agreed to. The offer, it it comes, would follow a flurry of diplomatic activity with May having flown to a summit in Sweden to meet EU leaders last week and Davis touring European capitals.
Getting to Yes
Now, what remains to to be seen is whether key players in May’s Cabinet play along. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a prominent opponent of the EU, said last week he wouldn’t block May from “doing what she believed was right” on the exit bill, in what could signal a willingness from at least part of the pro-Brexit faction to allow some flexibility.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who’s said in the past that the EU can “go whistle” if it wants a bigger financial settlement from the U.K., has seen his influence — and ability to block a deal — reduced after a series of missteps.
Time is pressing on Britain to come up with an improved offer after EU President Donald Tusk said early December would be “the latest” for additional concessions on the bill if talks are to advance beyond the divorce and on to future trading arrangements after a mid-December summit.
“We will make our proposals to the European Union in time for the council. I am sure about that,” Hammond said in an interview with the BBC on Sunday. Asked if time was running out for the U.K. to make an improved offer on its exit payment, he replied that “the council is in three weeks, so, yes.”
The U.K. has already agreed to pay into the EU budget for two years after leaving, which it considers a step toward what the EU wants, even if the Europeans say it doesn’t go far enough.
While May has said she intends to honor these obligations, her government hasn’t spelled out the exact items, or a methodology to calculate the dues. The process has been complicated along the way by what sometimes looks like a game of brinkmanship.
In an interview with the BBC, Davis insisted that Britain has “made all the running” and that now “I want them to compromise,” meaning the EU. Tusk responded by saying he found that position laughable: “I really appreciate Mr. Davis’s English sense of humor.”
Whatever Britain offers ahead of the December summit will need to be significant enough to convince other EU leaders that it’s serious about paying what it owes, something Hammond said May’s government is determined to do.
‘We Will Pay’
“It’s not about demands, it’s about what is properly due from the U.K. to the European Union under international law in accordance with European treaties,” Hammond said. “We’ve always been clear it won’t be easy to work out that number. But whatever is due, we will pay.”
Another point is that success or failure could well be decided at the highest political levels and relatively last minute. In Berlin on Friday, Davis said “we’ll make some decisions, political decisions, later on.”
The stalemate in Brexit talks is dragging on as EU leaders refuse to discuss a future trade deal with the U.K. until sufficient progress is made on money, guaranteeing rights of citizens, and the Irish border.
The bloc wants the U.K. to present a proposal for avoiding the reinstatement of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland after 2019, and to accept European Court of Justice jurisdiction in enforcing the withdrawal agreement and the rights of citizens.
The EU, meanwhile, is making internal preparations to expand the mandate of chief negotiator Michel Barnier. That would allow him to discuss the framework for a future trade relationship with the U.K. as well as transitional arrangements toward a new deal. Barnier will brief EU ministers at their meeting on Monday in Brussels.