The UK could be legally bound to pay a massive £39 ($52) billion Brexit ‘divorce bill’, even if the European Union (EU) is uncooperative and refused to negotiate a future trade deal, a Brexit minister has admitted.
The comments, from Suella Braverman, a Minister at the Department for Exiting the EU, cast serious doubt on Prime Minister Theresa May’s claim that paying the massive sum is linked to agreeing on a future trade relationship with the bloc.
The EU has long threatened to block talks on trade and citizens’ rights until the bill is agreed. However, they also claim the bill is a settlement for liabilities accrued as a member and has nothing to do with the future relationship.
Grilled before the Brexit Select Committee on Wednesday, Ms. Braverman was asked if MPs would vote on and agree to the financial settlement before a trade deal is agreed.
She said the “legal text underpinning the future framework will be worked on”.
The Prime Minister had offered the £39 billion “as part of a broader package relating, and in the spirit of, our future partnership”, but with no guarantees the EU would offer a trade deal, she added.
She insisted the bill and trade deal “will be connected when we vote in October”, but only because of verbal indications and in “spirit”.
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The payment and the future trade deal are not formally linked because the withdrawal agreement “does not contain conditionalities”, Ms. Braverman said.
She was then asked again if “the financial settlement that [MPs] are going to be asking to vote on in October”, will come “before we have a legal treaty before us on the future relationship”.
“Yes,” she replied. “I mean, I don’t deny that there will be a legal treaty which would be forthcoming on the future framework.”
She insisted: “The duty of good faith should not be ignored in this context. It’s more than just words.”
Furthermore, any decision to halt payments – which probably will not be fully paid until 2064 – will require a renegotiation, she also said.
Committed Brexiteers have resisted the bill, and in March last year, the House of Lords’ EU financial affairs sub-committee published a report explaining that the UK has no legal obligation to pay it.