Theresa May will walk away from Brexit talks unless EU drop demands for £88bn exit bill
THERESA May is planning to walk out of Brexit talks with Brussels in September unless EU bosses drop their demands for a massive exit fee.
A Downing Street source suggests that, despite not winning a majority in the general election, Mrs May is not shying away from getting tough with the European Commission.
Michel Barnier, the Commission’s chief negotiator, has set out demands for up to £88bn (€100m) from Britain as an exit fee, as the European Union struggles to fill the black hole left in its finances by losing the UK’s net contribution of £11bn a year.
But, according to reports, a senior figure at No 10 briefed business and industry leaders that the UK is preparing to quit talks in September.
The briefing, which took place after the election, comes amid growing frustration of the hard line attitude taken to Brussels on every issue, including dismissing Mrs May’s generous offer to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK.
The “fair and serious” offer from the Prime Minister was met with demands that she allow the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to have jurisdiction in Britain.
It was accompanied by documents laying out extensive demands for foreign judges to take over key decision-making powers in Britain.
The briefing from the Downing Street source has been welcomed by key campaign groups.
Leave Means Leave, which represents 45 pro-Brexit Tory MPs, has pressed the Government to walk away if the EU insists on only pressing for a bad deal for Britain.
Leave Means Leave’s co-chairman Richard Tice said: “The Government is absolutely right to be prepared to walk away from negotiations if the EU continues to make unreasonable demands.
“Any businessperson will tell you that you that no deal is better than a bad deal. Britain will be perfectly fine trading on WTO rules with the EU.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has had full backing for her Brexit strategy from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, after a former aide in the Brexit department claimed he would welcome an easing up on the Prime Minister’s “red lines” for negotiations, a source close to the Foreign Secretary has said.
Mr Johnson’s “100 per cent backing” for Mrs May comes after Brexit Secretary David Davis’s former chief of staff, James Chapman, claimed her insistence on leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ had “hamstrung” his exboss in negotiations.
Mr Chapman, who was originally brought into government by former Chancellor George Osborne and was a supporter of the Remain campaign, also claimed the likes of Mr Davis and Mr Johnson would welcome an easing of the PM’s Brexit demands, including leaving the ECJ and Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community), and potentially on immigration.
But a source close to Mr Johnson said he fully supports the Brexit vision Mrs May set out in her Lancaster House speech in January, including leaving the ECJ, the single market and customs union.
The Foreign Secretary also wants “managed immigration”, while being a supporter of Britain being an “open and diverse country”.
Last night a Downing Street source tried to play down the reports of an early walkout from the negotiations, saying: “This suggestion has no part in our plans.”
However, the Daily Express has learnt that a similar briefing suggesting a September walkout was given to pro-Brexit figures just before the election campaign in April.
Meanwhile, in a major retreat, a senior Remainer on the Labour frontbench has signalled that the fight for a second referendum is over.
Despite continued demands for another vote to reverse the historic referendum result last year by the Lib Dems, Jon Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary who had previously backed the call, said “there is no appetite for another referendum”.
He said: “I have mooted that in the past, but I don’t think that is a position that has broad consensus any more. That was something I speculated about in discussions such as this in an interview once, but clearly there’s no appetite for that, not that I can sense anyway.”
However, in a bid to continue scaremongering over Brexit, Sir Vince Cable – who looks set to be the next leader of the Lib Dems – claimed that Brexit without a deal will lead to a shortage of strawberries at Wimbledon.
“This week Wimbledon is being launched and the people who normally produce the strawberries can’t produce them because the labour force has disappeared because of anxiety about their future status in Britain,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
July 2nd, 2017: Express