UK must be clearer about financial obligations to EU, Merkel ally says

Britain must spell out which financial obligations to the EU it is prepared to honour if European leaders are to give the green light for the second phase of Brexit negotiations to begin next month, a key ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.

Following talks in Downing Street with Theresa May, senior German MEP Manfred Weber said the UK did not have to put a figure on the so-called "divorce bill" ahead of the Brussels summit on December 14 and 15.

However, he said that the British must make clear which of its outstanding financial obligations to the EU it was prepared to accept.

"When somebody is leaving the club then such a person or such a member state has to pay the open bill. That is what we are asking for - simply fairness, simply to do what you promised to do," Mr Weber, who heads the European Parliament's centre-right grouping, told reporters.

"For the so-called sufficient progress question for the December council, the most important thing is not the figure. The most important thing is to clarify the commitments - the areas where Great Britain has to see its commitments."

Mr Weber said the Prime Minister's Florence speech - when she had promised no member states would lose out financially as a result of Brexit - had been a "good starting point".

Downing Street described the meeting as "constructive" and said that Mrs May had made clear the UK was seeking an "ambitious partnership" which did not "follow the existing models".

Prime Minister Theresa May spoke in Florence in September
Prime Minister Theresa May spoke in Florence in September (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

Mrs May hopes the December summit will agree sufficient progress has been made on the terms of Britain withdrawal to move on to talks about trade and a transitional deal covering the period after the UK leaves the bloc in March 2019.

The meeting took place as MPs continued to debate the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons amid a row over the Daily Telegraph's labelling of 15 Tory critics of the key legislation "the Brexit mutineers".

Former minister Anna Soubry said her office had reported at least five threatening tweets to the police after being pictured on the front page of the newspaper.

But another of those featured, Antoinette Sandbach, said she had received "lots of support from my constituents and from people around the country".

brexiteer promises (a)it would be easy (b)
Europe would be falling over itself for a deal (c)we could stay in single market and customs union
reality (a)its not easy (b) UK economy can decline with no deal (c) taking back control means you still have to comply with EU rules

-- Antoinette Sandbach (@Sandbach) November 15, 2017

Ms Soubry described the front page as a "blatant piece of bullying that goes to the very heart of democracy", although she said she viewed it as a "badge of honour".

The row broke out after Tory rebels warned the PM she will face a revolt over moves to enshrine the date of Brexit in law.

On Tuesday, former attorney general and prominent rebel Dominic Grieve told MPs that no amount of "arm twisting" would make him vote for the amendment, which sets the UK's departure from the EU at 11pm on March 29 2019.

That amendment will not be voted on until next month at the earliest, and the Government has so far survived the early skirmishes in the battle to get the so-called repeal Bill through the Commons.

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