Ahead of the crunch EU council meeting next month, the government is doing everything it can to try and ensure the UK is given the green light from Brussels to move the negotiations on to trade. As part of this, talk has been rife that Theresa May is ready to considerably up her financial offer for the so-called Brexit bill. This afternoon, Peter Foster, the Telegraph’s Europe Editor, reports that British and EU negotiators have reached a deal over the bill in good time for Theresa May’s lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday.
British and EU negotiators have reportedly agreed that the final figure, deliberately left vague, will be somewhere between €45bn and €55bn. If it comes in at €45bn it will work out at just over £40bn – a figure that has been mooted in the press for some time. What remains to be seen is whether this money is on top of Theresa May’s commitment in the Florence speech to carry on paying into the EU budget during the transition period.
Both Brussels and the government have been keen to stress that nothing has been agreed until everything has been agreed. This means that the UK government won’t have to sign away this pot of cash until the negotiations are over – and they have worked out what Britain’s trade relationship with Brussels will be. If it’s a limited Canada style deal with no extra perks, expect questions to be asked about whether it’s worth so many billions. (Though, the EU side claim that this money is all about settling past liabilities rather than the future relationship).
Whether the public will accept such a high price is another matter. A Guardian poll this summer showed 41pc of people thought a payment of £10bn would be acceptable – but a separate YouGov poll found that only 9pc thought a Brexit bill of £50bn would be acceptable. However, YouGov also found that what people find acceptable depends a lot on how the question is framed. It’s hard for most people to quantify billions so what is most important is whether the amount is seen to be small, medium or large comparatively.
If the £40bn bill is laid out in terms of how that sum could be spent on public services in the UK, it could start to look very unappealing. This is why the big task for the government is working out how to pitch it as a price worth paying for a future prosperous trading relationship. Part of this may include the UK pointing out Brussels wanted a lot more – but don’t expect them to do this until the EU summit is safely out of the way.
In the meantime, Juncker ought to bring out the finest claret for his lunch with May. If £40bn can’t buy you a good bottle of wine with lunch, what will?