Threats by UK to refuse paying £39bn Brexit divorce bill “disappointing”, Senator says

Daniel McConnell, Political Editor

British Government threats to refuse to pay its £39bn divorce bill to the EU are “an empty threat” but “disappointing”, Dublin has said.

Speaking yesterday, the UK's new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, a prominent Leaver, said the UK could refuse to pay its £39 billion divorce bill to Brussels if it does not get a trade deal.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph and also speaking on BBC television, Mr Raab said there has to be an element of conditionality to the exit deal and how the UK's future relationship with the EU is determined.

Dominic Raab. Photo: PA

However, such talk received a cool response from the Irish Government side yesterday.

Neale Richmond, Fine Gael's Brexit Senate spokesman who is regularly rolled out to addresss the UK media, described Mr Raab's comments as “deeply disappointing”.

“They are quite disengenuous too. It is not a once off payment with no return to the UK.

The whole divorce bill sees out the UK's contribution to the multiannual financial framework in 2020. They get a return on that,” he told the Irish Examiner.

He said were the UK not to pay that then research scientists would not get grants, their farmers would get no payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), or any peace funding.

“It really is an empty threat. This was something that was agreed early on in the negotiations. To be holding that over is going back on what has already agreed. That was the subject of intense negotiation and took a long time. This is something that nailed in stone,” Mr Richmond said.

“To put that back on the table is really disappointing,” he said.

Mr Raab accused the EU of "irresponsibly" ramping up pressure in withdrawal negotiations.

The comments came as Mr Raab indicated he was still trying to persuade all members of the Cabinet that Theresa May's Chequers compromise agreement was "the best plan to get the best deal".

And Tory former prime minister Sir John Major became the latest prominent Conservative to leave the door open to a new referendum, insisting that such a vote would be "morally justified".

Mr Raab was scathing about comments from Brussels stating that a no deal scenario would mean there would be no specific arrangements in place for UK citizens living on the continent, or for EU migrants in Britain after withdrawal.

Mr Raab told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show: "Well, I think that's a rather irresponsible thing to be coming from the other side.

"We ought to be trying to reassure citizens on the continent and also here.

"There is obviously an attempt to try and ramp up the pressure."

The Brexit Secretary said critics were mistaken to think Mrs May would not walk away without a deal if she had to.

"They're wrong. No bluffing."

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