How Excellent, The £39 Billion Divorce Bill Is Actually Negotiable

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This is a useful example of the drivelling incompetence with which Theresa May approached the Brexit negotiations. The first time anyone with even a sniff of the ability to make the £39 billion divorce bill contingent upon all other parts of the deal mentions the idea of that contingency then everyone agrees, yes, you’re right, it’s contingent. Instead of the former bovine insistence that we’ve just got to pay it whatever and that’s that:

A UK government led by Boris Johnson could not be dragged through the courts if it refused to pay the country’s multibillion-pound Brexit bill, the EU’s German budget chief has admitted, but Britain’s economy, security and universities would be made to suffer. Günther Oettinger, European commissioner for the EU’s finances, linked the settling of Britain’s debts as agreed by Theresa May to Brussels’ approach to the prospects of the country retaining any kind of beneficial relationship with the bloc. Johnson, who remains the clear frontrunner in the race to be the next prime minister, has threatened to hold back on payment of the UK’s financial settlement with the EU, estimated to be around £39bn, claiming the sum could be used as “lubricant” to improve Britain’s bargaining position in trade talks.

The EU’s position is that the British government has already agreed to the settlement and that even in a no-deal scenario, Britain would need to pay both liabilities relating to the existing EU budget, which runs until the end of 2020, and unspent commitments that Britain signed off on as a member state. In any circumstance, should the UK wish to open talks with the EU over a future relationship, Brussels insists that it would be conditional on full payment.

How excellent and how super. And how it always has been of course except for that stupidity at the negotiating table.

It probably is true that we righteously owe some goodly portion of that £39 billion. Just as there are some other amounts that they owe us. But Oettinger is only repeating what every sensible negotiator has known all along. Whatever future deal there is between Britain and the EU is contingent upon all the terms of that deal. If we – as I would desire but perhaps I’m in a minority here – just tell them to bugger off and take what lumps come our way then the deal will be somewhat fractious and minimal. There still will be one given that we’re only 26 miles away of course. And if we agree that we’d like to pay their pensions and be very chummy then we’ll be very chummy after we’ve paid their pensions.

But as I say, Oettinger is only admitting what has always been obvious. The deal depends upon the terms of the deal. What else could it possibly be about?

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