The European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has hit back after UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s taunts during budget talks.
Johnson said that EU leaders could “go whistle” if they expect the UK to pay a large Brexit divorce bill.
But speaking at a press conference today, Barnier hit back with a soundbite of his own.
“I’m not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking,” he told journalists.
Barnier’s comments play on the fact that the negotiations must end in March 2019, even if no deal has been reached. That could leave the UK facing significant barriers to trading with its biggest partner.
Before trade talks even start, the EU wants an agreement on how the “Brexit bill” will be paid. It puts Britain’s financial settlement at tens of billions of euros, in part to cover a share of future EU budget commitments made while the country had no plans to leave the bloc.
Barnier stressed that it was important to “settle the accounts of the past” before talking about the future.
The divide between the two sides is wide, with pro-Brexit campaigners having promised that leaving the EU would end payments to Brussels.
But the EU is insisting that the UK cannot simply renege on agreements to fund the bloc’s budget made while it was still a member. Many of these agreements stretch up to 2020 and include money for the European Commission and Parliament as well as environmental and scientific projects.
Some estimates have put the possible bill at over €100 billion.
“The sums that I have seen that they (European Union) propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate and I think ‘go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression,” Johnson told MPs yesterday.
The phrase means to ask for something with little chance of obtaining it.
Johnson also said he was confident Britain would eventually secure a “great” deal.
It’s a thorny issue in the divorce talks, and definitely not the only one.
Earlier this week, top members of the European Parliament warned they would veto a deal if Britain doesn’t improve its offer regarding the rights of EU citizens remaining in the country.
… and he said the government has “no plan for no deal” 😱 https://t.co/qpMo3h0a36— Mirror Politics (@MirrorPolitics) July 11, 2017
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she could walk away from the EU without a Brexit agreement if she believed the deal on offer was worse than no deal at all.
Johnson said this was unlikely as it was in the interests of both sides to reach an understanding.
Asked to spell out what “no deal” would mean, he said: “There is no plan for no deal because we are going to get a great deal.”
May’s spokesman contradicted this, saying contingency planning was taking place for “a range of scenarios”.
Britain has had a disastrous start to Brexit deal making, says former UK negotiator to the EU https://t.co/UTuUobET8A— The Independent (@Independent) July 11, 2017