Britain coughs up to the EU

The government offers to pay the European Union €45bn to €55bn to start the next phase of talks.


The PM and Donald Tusk: it's a deal
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"Well, at least the City folks like it," says Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. Sterling jumped on the news that Britain had reached a deal with Brussels on the size of our "divorce bill". The EU should now finally start talking trade. The plan is that we will assume liabilities worth up to €100bn, although net payments, discharged over many decades, should be around half that amount, says Alex Barker in the Financial Times.

This is ridiculous, says Lionel Shriver in The Spectator. Remember that the Lisbon Treaty's Article 50 "makes no mention of paying financial liabilities in order to leave the EU". And why did the government let itself be painted into a corner by allowing talk of a divorce bill in the first place? "We're not talking about a marriage, but a membership" a subscription, not a lifetime commitment. In Britain "many a rightly outraged spouse has seen an under-accomplished ex" walk off with half his or her money "which sets an ominous precedent here".

Legally it did appear possible to leave the EU without paying anything, notes a Spectator editorial. But "it was never realistic to think that we could maintain good relations with the bloc without paying a penny". We agreed to fund a budget up to 2020, and ongoing pension obligations. In any case, the payments are "a fraction of what we would otherwise be on the hook for", and they will be spread out over many years. What's more, "now we have put money on the table, the EU's negotiating team knows what it would lose if it were to collapse the talks through sheer obstinacy". They wouldn't be able to count on our cash.

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The government's "fulsome offer" of €45bn to €55bn "now unlocks one of the biggest obstacles" to the next phase of the negotiations, agrees The Daily Telegraph's Peter Foster. It also "makes it potentially harder" for the EU to drag its feet in the other two legs of the negotiation "guaranteeing the rights of 3.2 million EU citizens and avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland". Still, it's important to realise that "neither the Irish or European Court of Justice conundrums have simple solutions" and we can expect "tough talks" over "the terms of any transition deal and the future EU-UK trade relationship".

"Britain's willingness to go the extra mile on money" could be a last-minute ploy to avoid concessions on Ireland that could bring down May's fragile minority government, says The Guardian. But the bigger question is whether the EU will be any more forthcoming when it comes to talking trade. So far, all the signs suggest we face "a stark choice between the low-access trade rights of Canada, or the low-sovereignty vassal-state status of Efta members such as Norway".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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