LONDON: Theresa May will be urged by pro-EU Conservatives to reach a quick deal over the divorce bill from Brussels in order to maximise the chances of reaching a free trade deal within the tight deadline for Brexit talks.
As the prime minister prepares to trigger article 50, the formal process for leaving the EU, on Wednesday, rebel Tories who seek the closest possible relationship with the EU are preparing to offer May political cover for settling what they see as Britain’s debts to Brussels, reports The Guardian.
They fear that Britain could waste valuable time and erode goodwill by locking horns with the remaining members – the EU27 – over the price of exit, which must be agreed upfront, according to the EU’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier.
They are concerned that dragging out the issue would hand Brexit hardliners an excuse for walking away from the negotiating table without a deal.
Barnier has suggested the outlines of a deal must be agreed within 18 months in order to allow EU member states to ratify it before the two-year deadline set out in article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.
Neil Carmichael, the Stroud MP who campaigned for remain, said: “If we’re going to row about money all the time, then we’re not going to find ourselves in the right kind of relationship. Some of this money is about the support that we have been giving to eastern European and that’s been good for them and good for all of us. We don’t want to sour the relationship.”
Another Conservative backbencher, Ben Howlett, the MP for Bath, said: “We need to prioritise a free trade deal over absolutely everything else and we will be saying that to the prime minister.”
Article 50 will be formally triggered when a letter is delivered by hand to the EU council president, Donald Tusk, in Brussels on Wednesday, setting out the UK’s negotiating priorities.
Tusk is expected to respond within 48 hours with a draft of the EU27’s negotiating “guidelines”, including how it believes the talks should be conducted.
Government sources said the drafting of the letter was being very tightly controlled by May and her close aides in No 10, with a smaller circle of cabinet ministers being consulted than those who saw advance copies of her Lancaster House speech in January.
Pro-Brexit Tory MPs and ministers, including the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, have struck a more defiant note about demands from Brussels for a payment of up to €60bn (£52bn) to settle outstanding liabilities, including pensions for EU staff and ongoing infrastructure projects.