Theresa May also made it clear that the UK would not make a unilateral offer to the EU without guarantees on trade
A Brexit divorce payment of up to £40billion will only be handed over if Brussels agrees a comprehensive trade deal, MPs were told yesterday.
Treasury chief secretary Elizabeth Truss sought to reassure Eurosceptics by insisting any payment was ‘contingent on us securing a suitable outcome’ in trade negotiations.
Theresa May also made it clear that the UK would not make a unilateral offer to the EU without guarantees on trade, saying the two sides would ‘move in step together’ towards a settlement.
Ministers have agreed a formula that would raise the UK’s offer to about £40billion in the hope of securing a breakthrough at a crunch summit in Brussels next month.
EU sources have suggested the offer may be enough, despite some previous demands of as much as £90billion.
Boris Johnson, who has resisted paying a large bill, yesterday indicated he was satisfied the money was justified.
The Foreign Secretary said: ‘We’ve been waiting for this for a long time – 18 months or so. Now is the moment to get the ship off the rocks and move it forwards.’
Ministers have agreed a formula that would raise the UK’s offer to about £40billion in the hope of securing a breakthrough at a crunch summit in Brussels next month
The prospect of a breakthrough was also welcomed by businesses, with the pound rising to its highest level in weeks.
We’re the best for business
Britain was last night named the best country in Europe in which to do business in a major vote of confidence ahead of Brexit.
It was ranked above Germany, France, Italy and Spain for its ‘business environment’ in the latest Prosperity Index from the Legatum Institute.
Globally, Britain was deemed to be the fifth best place in the world for business, with the United States in first place, New Zealand second, Hong Kong third and Canada in fourth.
The Legatum Institute praised the UK’s flexible labour market, laws that protect the ideas of inventors and entrepreneurs, and the ease of raising money to plough into a business.
It said: ‘The stand-out feature of the UK is access to credit and the ability of a company that wants finance to get it. That’s a benefit of London being the financial capital of the world.’
Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns said: ‘These findings are yet more evidence that the Project Fear of the Remain campaign was pure scaremongering.There’s no doubt that the UK has a prosperous future outside the EU.’
The London-based Legatum Institute is the charitable arm of the Legatum Group, a private investment firm set up by Christopher Chandler in Dubai in 2006. Mr Chandler, 57, is a New Zealand-born billionaire, who with his brother Richard created a hedge fund in the 1980s and made a fortune investing in Russia, among other places.
However, members of the Tory pro-Brexit European Research Group were last night seeking a meeting with government Chief Whip Julian Smith over the issue – with some even warning they could vote down any payment in the Commons.
Conservative MP Peter Bone told The Guardian: ‘Giving billions to the EU is completely the reverse of what people voted for. If the deal is voted down we come out on World Trade Organisation rules.’
Fellow Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Government seemed to be ‘dancing to the tune of the European Commission’.
But other Tories, including former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, were willing to countenance a substantial divorce payment, provided it was ‘absolutely hinged on a free trade arrangement’.
Miss Truss said the Government was ‘not dancing to anyone’s tune’, telling MPs: ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
‘Any settlement that we make is contingent on us securing a suitable outcome.’
Business leaders welcomed her comments. The British Chambers of Commerce said firms would welcome any development that ‘brings us closer to discussions on a future trade deal’.
The Federation of Small Businesses said members urgently want to see Brexit negotiations move on to discussions over trade.
However, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier last night insisted there was ‘still much work to do’.
n IRELAND last night threatened to block talks on an EU trade deal unless Britain makes concessions on the Northern Irish border.
Irish EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan ordered the UK to make specific guarantees, accusing Britain of treating its neighbour like ‘a small country’. Ireland wants a legal pledge that there will be no return to a hard border.
No10 tells BBC to set the record straight on ‘misleading’ coverage
Downing Street last night called on the BBC to ‘set the record’ straight over its ‘misleading’ coverage of the Brexit divorce bill.
No 10 was angered by the Corporation’s claim that Theresa May had ‘bowed to pressure’ from the EU to hand over ‘up to £50billion’ to Brussels as part of a divorce deal.
Theresa May has dismissed newspaper claims the bill could rise to £50billion. The UK’s offer is thought to be about £40billion – far lower than the £90billion demanded by some in Brussels.
But on early morning bulletins yesterday, the BBC was still reporting the claim as fact. On a 6am bulletin on Radio 4’s Today programme, presenter Sarah Montague announced: ‘The Government has bowed to pressure from the European Union and offered to pay up to £50billion as part of the UK’s Brexit settlement.’ Later BBC bulletins toned down the claim.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman suggested the BBC should offer a correction.
He told reporters: ‘I have never commented on speculation, of which there is much. I am confident if the BBC has ended up misleading the public with any of this speculation then… they would want to set the record straight.’
A BBC spokesman last night defended its bulletins, saying: ‘Our coverage suggests a possible range and reflects that No 10 has now “played down reports”.’