Theresa May will offer a €20bn Brexit divorce bill sweetener during a key speech on Friday, it has been reported.
The prime minister will use the address in Florence to stamp her authority as the major driver behind UK negotiations following Boris Johnson’s ham-fisted attempt to press the case for no settlement at all.
Olly Robbins, Britain’s senior Brexit mandarin who has recently moved to No.10, has briefed European counterparts that May’s speech will feature the UK’s first on-the-record attempt to settle the divorce bill.
That has been a major stumbling block to ongoing talks between David Davis, the Brexit secretary, and his EU opposite number, Michel Barnier.
According to the Financial Times, the money will be offered in exchange for continued single market access and fill the hole in Brussels coffers created by the UK’s withdrawal in early 2019.
The prime minister is set to brief her cabinet on the speech on Thursday to ensure they are all on board with her position.
The figure would only cover short-term obligations until 2019, and has been described as a “transition payment”.
However, one EU diplomat said the offer may not be enough. They told the FT: “Transition payments do not cancel the bill.”
Sky News reported the figure was “pure speculation about a speech that has not yet been given”, according to Downing Street sources.
Although the EU has not publicly said what it expects Britain to pay to leave, at figure of at least €60bn has been mooted.
Barnier and Davis have been at loggerheads over the bill – and also the thorny issues of citizens’ rights and the Irish border.
The EU has insisted no formal trade talks can begin until those three key issues are resolved – but Britain says it wants to discuss trade relationships as early as next month.
Eurosceptic MPs have been vocal in asserting the UK should not have to pay a penny to leave the bloc so such a move by Theresa May is bound to create ructions at home.
The divorce bill reports come after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s article to map out a “glorious Brexit” last weekend.
It was widely interpreted as an attempt to undermine the prime minister, with some saying Johnson was “backseat driving” Brexit.
Johnson repeated the hotly disputed £350m for the NHS claim that was pivotal to the Leave campaign of last year.
He was accused by the Office for National Statistics of a “clear misuse” of statistics.