LONDON, UK — Britain’s slow move away from the European Union took a new twist Sunday as the new Brexit chief suggested that Britain might not pay its 39 billion pound ($51 billion) divorce bill if no trade agreement with the European Union is reached.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told the Sunday Telegraph that there must be “conditionality” between Britain making the hefty exit payment and its ability to create a new relationship with the EU.
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“You can’t have one side fulfilling its side of the bargain and the other side not, or going slow, or failing to commit on its side,” he said, implying that the threat of withholding payment might get Brexit talks back on track.
Britain and the EU remain far apart on terms of a new trade setup. British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party is also deeply split over what Brexit policy to support. Raab replaced David Davis, who resigned two weeks ago to protest May’s “soft” Brexit plan.
May has faced a substantial rebellion from party colleagues who favor a complete break with the EU — a so-called “hard” Brexit — rather than May’s proposal, which calls for a “common rule book” with European nations that would govern trade in goods.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier is also lukewarm on May’s latest proposal, asking many questions about its viability Friday. Raab, however, says he is still hopeful a deal can be concluded by October so the EU parliament and national parliaments of EU nations can ratify the deal before Britain leaves in March.
“Actually the fact Michel Barnier is not blowing it out the water but asking questions is a good positive sign — that’s what we negotiate on,” Raab said, looking forward to more Brexit discussions Thursday in Brussels.