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Brexit: UK must pay its divorce bill even in event of no-deal, EU warns

It comes after Boris Johnson insisted the UK would be free from its obligations in a no-deal scenario.

Donald Tusk and Boris Johnson speak at the weekend.
Donald Tusk and Boris Johnson speak at the weekend.
Image: PA WIRE

THE UK MUST pay its Brexit divorce bill even if it crashes out without a deal, the EU has warned – adding that future ties will be threatened if London fails to honour its commitments.

The stern response comes a day after Boris Johnson again said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, the UK would be free from financial obligations to the EU.

With the clock ticking and fears of no deal growing, Johnson and European Council President Donald Tusk clashed at the G7 in France on Saturday, with the British leader insisting the current divorce deal must be changed.

Asked if the EU would take Britain to court to recover the money, a spokeswoman for the European Commission instead stressed that a future trade deal between Britain and the remaining 27 states could be under threat unless London paid up.

“As we have said many times before, all commitments that were taken by the 28 member states should be honoured, and this is also and especially true in a no deal scenario, where the United Kingdom would be expected to honour all commitments made during EU membership,” commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters.

Rather than going into judicial action threat, I think it is important to make clear that settling accounts is essential to starting off a new relationship on the right foot based on mutual trust.

Jean-Claude Piris, who served as director of the EU Council’s legal services for more than two decades, tweeted: “If the U.K. refuses to pay its debts to the EU, then the EU will not accept to negotiate a trade agreement with the U.K.”

Johnson has repeatedly said that if Britain leaves without a deal it will not have to pay the €43 billion divorce bill agreed by his predecessor Theresa May.

He repeated the claim again on Sunday, telling ITV that the money would be “no longer, strictly speaking, owed” and his government would be left with “very substantial sums” to spend.

Downing Street has reportedly refused to say how much the UK would be prepared to pay, though a report in the London Times today quoted a figure of seven billion pounds.

The tough line from Brussels echoes comments by a French official last week who warned London against thinking “there’s not a deal, so I won’t pay”, saying “there’s no magic wand that makes this bill disappear.”

Johnson is adamant the withdrawal agreement struck by May – rejected by parliament three times – is dead in the water and changes must be made, particularly to the backstop, if a deal is to be agreed and a no-deal exit avoided. 

Speaking to reporters in Clonmel today, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said news of the meeting between Johnson and Tusk was welcome. While no-one knew what had been discussed behind closed doors, there were no indications of any big breakthroughs, Coveney said. 

With reporting from - © AFP 2019

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Daragh Brophy

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