LONDON — Senior European Union officials expect talks surrounding the UK’s €60 billion (€51.2 billion) divorce bill from the 28-nation bloc to take up more than a quarter of the entire negotiation period, despite British claims to the contrary.
The Financial Times reported over the weekend that the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is determined to carry out negotiations on an issue-by-issue basis, rather than the “in parallel” approach favoured by Brexit Secretary David Davis.
Barnier’s first port of call is likely to be thrashing out how much the UK will need to pay back to the EU, and he is said to expect this process to take until at least December.
“He thinks we will be discussing money and acquired rights [of expatriate citizens] until December,” a “senior eurozone official” who is in contact with Barnier told the FT.
“No trade, nothing about the future, just the past.”
Given that the UK is expected to trigger Article 50 at some time in March, and that the official negotiation period for agreeing a Brexit deal is two years, that would represent substantially more than a quarter of the entire period.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will tell British government to hand over roughly €60 billion as part of its divorce from the 28-nation bloc.
The figure was agreed after a meeting between Barnier and representatives from other EU member states earlier in February, according to Sky.
Germany and France allegedly wanted the divorce bill to be over €69 billion (£59 billion) but agreed on a compromise.
Barnier is also set to tell Prime Minister Theresa May’s government that it cannot expect to negotiate a new trade relationship with the EU until terms of the initial divorce, including the multi-billion pound bill, have been agreed by all parties.
This particular demand comes as no real surprise given that it has been the position of numerous senior EU figures since the June referendum. However, May and her team were still hopeful of holding divorce and trade talks in parallel.
The EU is believed to be trying to get the UK “down to earth” as soon as possible, and currently believes that expectations from the British government are unrealistic. “If we don’t get them down to earth early in the game then we never will,” one diplomat told the FT.
“You need some parallelism,” another added. “But the leaders won’t be fooled by vague promises [on the divorce]. In the end you need to tackle the bill.”