David Davis has denied the UK Government is hiding plans to pay the EU a £50 billion Brexit settlement, and said Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was being “silly” by insisting on dealing with money as a priority in talks.
The Brexit Secretary said the EU was trying to put pressure on the UK over the demands for a so-called divorce fee - the subject of a bitter row during the latest round of negotiations - and playing down the progress that had been made.
Mr Davis rejected reports in Sunday newspapers that a ‘divorce settlement’ of up to £50 billion had been signed off by the government, but was being held back until after the Conservative conference to avoid embarrassment.
In a punch interview on the Andrew Marr Show, he repeated legal arguments put forward by British negotiators last week which claim the UK isn’t liable to pay the EU any money after Brexit, adding: “We have got good lawyers”.
The Brexit Secretary claimed Mr Barnier “wants to put pressure on us, which is why the stance this week in the press conference - bluntly, I think it looked a bit silly because there plainly were things that we had achieved”.
Mr Davis said money was “the thing that frightens them most” and insisted that the UK would not be forced into backing down in order to begin trade talks in October.
The EU is only prepared to begin trade talks once it has assessed that “sufficient progress” has been made on issues including the financial settlement, and has set next month’s European Council meeting as a deadline.
Meanwhile, ministers have warned Conservative MPs not to mount a rebellion when crucial legislation to enact Brexit comes before the House of Commons this week, or risk putting Jeremy Corbyn into power.
Theresa May’s said it was time for Parliament to “play its part” by passing the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at its second reading, but her deputy Damian Green issues a warning to colleagues planning to side with Labour, the SNP and Liberal Democrats to try keep the UK in the single market.
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said Labour would not give the government a “blank cheque”, and the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford has said a coalition could be built across the Commons for a so-called ‘soft Brexit’.
“Starting the new parliamentary session with the Withdrawal Bill shows that it is now the job of all MPs, including my former colleagues on the Stronger In campaign, to respect the will of the people,” Mr Green said. “No Conservative wants a bad Brexit deal, or to do anything that increases the threat of a Corbyn government.”