David Davis has rejected suggestions that the UK will have to pay a €100bn (£84.5bn) bill to leave the European Union, saying rising estimates of the divorce bill prove that no deal is better than a bad deal.
“We will not be paying €100bn,” the Brexit secretary told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
It had been estimated that Brussels was seeking up to €60bn to allow the UK to leave the bloc, but added demands by the EU could put the final settlement at €100bn, according to the Financial Times.
Speaking later to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Davis dismissed the figure as part of the “rough and tumble” of negotiations.
His comments came as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, was about to hold a press conference in Brussels, outlining the details of the EU’s negotiating position.
Davis said: “Our intention is to get an agreement; we have to maintain the alternative option. That’s why Theresa said no deal is better than a bad deal. This morning you see demands for €100bn in the papers. It has gone from €50bn, to €60bn to €100bn. It rather actually proves her point. I know that is not where we will end up. The simple truth is this is going to be a tough negotiation.”
Davis cited the example of Margaret Thatcher’s negotiations with European leaders. He said: “When Mrs Thatcher walked away she got the rebate. We have a €290bn market for them. Once we are outside we will be their biggest external market. That’s incredibly important to them …
“In the walkaway circumstance there is nothing to pay. But nobody is looking for that outcome. We want a deal. We think we can get a deal.”
He added: “You’ve seen in the mixture of gossip and spin in the last week. The British public should look at everything that comes out with a pinch of salt. This is first part where we will have this slight rough and tumble approach.”
Davis also dismissed a suggestion by Barnier that the European courts could arbitrate on the final divorce bill.
He said: “We don’t agree with that. These are negotiating demands that are being lined up. And we will make our counters to them. That’s not something that we see as being either necessary or valuable.”
Davis, who will be leading the Brexit negotiations, insisted that he could do a deal with Barnier: “I’ve dealt with Michel Barnier many years ago. You will never hear a word of criticism of him from me. He’s tough, he’s straightforward, he’s French, he’s very elegant. He’s determined, but he’s also done deals in the past.”
He added: “We have said we will obey our legal obligations but they are not going to be determined for us by one side or the other; it will be a matter of negotiation.”
Leaks revealed a tense dinner took place last week at Downing Street between May and European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. May’s demands that the trade talks should occur before a divorce bill had been agreed were met with incredulity, according to the leaks.
On Tuesday May declared that she would be a “bloody difficult woman” in the talks. The prime minister told the BBC: “During the Conservative party leadership campaign I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman. And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker.”