European Leaders Fret Over Suggestion Britian Could Withhold £39 Billion ‘Brexit Bill’

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives for a speech at the European Parliament on April 17, 2018 in the eastern French city of Strasbourg. - Macron addresses the European Parliament for the first time in a bid to shore up support for his ambitious plans for post-Brexit reforms of the EU. …
FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty
JOE MARKHAM

French President Emmanuel Macron and Senior Europhile MEP Guy Verhofstadt have lashed out at would-be British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim that he would withhold the £39 billion Britain supposedly owes to the EU in order to achieve better terms of withdrawal.

Boris Johnson, who is in the running to be the next Tory leader and consequently British Prime Minister — a position he is thought to be the favourite for — has laid out his position on Brexit, hinting at a possible no-deal withdrawal.

Saying that he would take the country out of the European Union on October 31st with or with0ut a deal but that he would withhold the payment allegedly due to the EU in order to achieve a better deal, Johnson said: “Our friends and partners need to understand that the money is going to be retained until such time as we have greater clarity about the way forward.”

He Added: “In getting a good deal, money is a great solvent and a great lubricant.” Johnson’s comment followed those by fellow Tory race frontrunner Dominic Raab, who had said in 2018 that the country should not pay the £39 billion if the European Union was not willing to cooperate with Britain.

Senior Europhile MEP Guy Verhofstadt responded to Johnson’s suggestion, writing: “Boris Johnson threatens not to pay the Brexit bill. This would not only hurt the UK’s credibility as an international partner, but it is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts what almost every lawyer in the UK thinks about it.”

Meanwhile, France’s President Emmanuel said that the UK failing to pay would be illegal and the UK would suffer credit downgrades and lessen its ability to borrow money. He threatened: “Not honouring your payment obligations is a failure of international commitments equivalent to a sovereign debt default, whose consequences are well known.”

However, it is not at all clear that the UK does indeed owe the money at all. A paper by senior British lawyer Martin Howe QC found that the EU’s claim that the UK owes them £39 billion after Brexit is not legally binding.

The top legal expert concluded that: “Our report shows how weak the European Commission’s claims for payment are. Their position paper fails to provide a credible argument why the UK should be legally liable for the vast sums of money being claimed.

“In law, we will owe no money at all to the EU when account is taken of what we are owed for the return of capital the UK has in the EIB [European Investment Bank]… the Government is going through the European Commission’s claims ‘line by line’. He is right to do so – because it is clear we do not owe the EU any money.”

The latest comments by Macron and Verhofstadt are the latest outpourings of frequent bouts of concern from European capitals that the EU may not be able to continue milking the United Kingdom — a net contributor — after it leaves the European Union. Brussels Brexit boss Michel Barnier warned London in January that it would be forced to pay the money whether the country left with or without a deal.

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