Outlandish demands for Britain to hand over €60 billion in a ‘divorce settlement’ are being made by Euro-fanatical officials to deliberately derail the Brexit process, insiders have claimed.
Senior officials in three separate government departments have told The Telegraph that they believe the vast sum is being used to back Britain into a corner, to act as a warning to other nations which might consider leaving the Union.
“If the European Commission persists with these ridiculous numbers when the talks begin, then there is a real risk that our side just says ‘forget it, we’ll see you in court’ and the entire process blows up at the outset,” a senior UK official close to the negotiation process said.
Two of the officials have directly laid the blame for the tactic on Martin Selmayr, chief-of-staff to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Selmayr (pictured above standing behind the Commission President), who is widely known to be ultra-hostile to Brexit, has been variously described as “brutal”, an “enforcer”, a “gatekeeper”, a man with “no friends”, “brilliant”, “relentless”, and “poisonous”.
“At best, no-one thinks Selmayr would shed a tear if the UK fell out of Europe without a deal; at worst he seems to be actively scheming to make that happen,” said a second UK official. “Selmayr is a ‘believer’ and he believes a destructive Brexit is the best way to keep Europe together.”
European demands for the severance payment of €60 billion (£50 billion) have been met with derision by leading British Eurosceptics this week. Former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith called the demand a “dreadful joke”.
Whitehall sources have said that they believe the full liabilities owed by Britain are closer to €20 billion, although some payments such as pension liabilities for former British eurocrats and “unspent liabilities” accrued over the 43 years of British membership of the EU.
But while the Commission is insisting that €60 billion is a “reasonable number”, an EU diplomatic source who was present at last week’s European Council summit admitted: “No-one takes that sum seriously.
“Even our finance ministry is unable to explain how the Commission reaches it. And besides, we know we can’t strip you naked, even if Martin Selmayr would like that very much indeed.”
The source said that the Council meeting had revealed a rift between member states, some of which, including France, Germany, Greece, and Spain, favour a hard line to “punish” Britain, while others, including the Scandinavian nations, the Netherlands, and eastern EU countries, would like to see a more moderate line taken.
Yet while the EU insider said that the member states were determined not to let the process be hijacked by the Commission, a British source conceded it may well be.
“The member states are divided and distracted and the reality is that Brexit is not their number one priority, which leaves Selmayr free to constantly degrade the mood of the talks at the margin. No one should underestimate him,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the British government has signalled that it favours a transitionary ‘soft Brexit’ before all ties are cut from the bloc, indicating that Britain may continue to pay into the EU for years to come.
Charles Grant, the director of the pro-EU Centre for European Reform think-tank, said if that was the kind of deal the government wanted, a showdown with hard-line Brexiteers was necessary.
“There will have to be a transitional period in which we stay in the single market and the customs union, pay into the EU budget, accept ECJ rulings and, probably, accept free movement,” he said.
“At some point between now and March, Theresa May will have to face down the hardline Brexiteers and break with them, if she wants to obtain a half-decent deal.”