Under pressure, Theresa May tries to reassure EU on money
Gothenburg: Britain will honour its commitments to the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May said again on Friday, trying to reassure increasingly frustrated leaders in the bloc who want London to spell out how much it will pay on Brexit.
May will meet leaders on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, to try to break deadlock over the divorce settlement. But a government source said she was not yet planning to detail which commitments Britain was ready to pay.
With 16 months to go until Brexit day, Britain needs to open the way to discussions on the future trading relationship with the EU to offer businesses -- which are threatening to leave the country -- some certainty in taking investment decisions.
Under pressure at home from members of parliament in her own party who are concerned she is preparing for Britain to walk away with no deal and from EU officials to increase her opening bid, May’s main focus in Gothenburg will be a meeting with Donald Tusk, the summit chair who is overseeing the Brexit process.
“For the negotiations, those continue, and obviously we look forward to the December European council and continuing to look through the issues. I was clear in my speech in Florence that we will honour our commitments,” she said, referring to a speech in Italy two months ago when she last sought to re-set the talks.
“I’ve set out a vision for that economic partnership. I look forward to the European Union responding positively to that so we can move forward together,” she told reporters.
May has long said Britain will “honour its commitments” but EU officials are urging the prime minister to detail which ones, and, if not demanding a total sum, to at least give them an idea of the shape of her proposed settlement.
But May, weakened after losing her Conservative Party’s majority at a June election she did not need to call, has little room for manoeuvre. Some of her team of ministers are pressing her to hold off from naming a figure, seeing it as one of the few levers Britain has to press for better trade deal.
“TIME IS SHORT”
Tusk will remind May, according to an EU source, that “time is short” to deliver the kind of progress needed for EU officials to give the green light at the mid-December summit to opening talks on their future relationship.
The bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said he needs to hear more from Britain on three key divorce conditions, including the financial settlement, by the start of next month if the EU is to be in a position for all 27 other national leaders to trigger the second phase at a summit on Dec. 14-15.
Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis, who addressed German businesses in Berlin on Thursday as part of London’s wider efforts to unlock the talks, said on Friday it was clear many EU leaders wanted to move the talks forward.
“Of course they are saying that (more money is needed before progress) but the other thing that is also clear is that many of them do want to move on. It’s very important to them,” Davis told BBC radio.
A day earlier, he said Britain was ready to go “over and above” what it owed to the EU budget until 2020, but pressed on how and when the government would try to narrow the gap between its offer and the EU’s demands, he said: “Wait for another few weeks before I answer that.”
In Dublin, British foreign minister Boris Johnson tried to ease concerns on another front by saying no one wanted a return to a hard border with EU member Ireland, which some fear could usher in a return of the Troubles, three decades of violence between Irish nationalists and British unionists.
But he suggested he saw no need to provide guarantees to Dublin before moving to a discussion of future trade.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar was withering in his criticism of Britain. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like they’ve thought all this through,” he said in Gothenburg.
“If we have to wait until the New Year, if we have to wait for further concessions, so be it.”