Germany’s foreign minister warns May off Thatcher style money grab in Brexit talks

Nathanael Williams

There’ll be no debate about the UK paying its due for past EU obligations according to Germany’s foreign minister  

SIGMAR GABRIEL, the German foreign minister has told Prime Minister Theresa May that there is no chance of the UK not paying a “divorce bill” before it completes its departure from the European Union.

This week he told a selection of the German press that the UK Government should not expect a “UK rebate” from the EU in talks over its exit from the bloc, a reference to the budget concessions won in 1984 by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

These payments that would constitute a “divorce bill” refer to all financial obligations the UK has to the EU from the last decade up until the end of the two-year Brexit negotiation period.

His comments follwed a letter from the UK Prime Minister Theresa May to EU leaders, starting the process of the UK’s departure from the EU.

“There is no discount for Britons in the Brexit talks.” Sigmar Gabriel

“In all these, there will be no UK rebate,” Gabriel said with reference to a possible reduction in Britain’s contributions to the EU budget.

He added: “The Brexit negotiations with the United Kingdom that the European Union will lead for us won’t be easy – some people know the saying that … things will get difficult before they get easier again – that applies to these talks.

“There is no discount for Britons in the Brexit talks.”

UK Brexit Minister David Davis and May have both suggested that the UK could negotiate the so-called “divorce bill” with the EU, which the bloc has stated is not a bill for leaving the union but the amount for past and current obligations yet unpaid. Estimated to be as much as €60bn, Gabriel also reminded the UK Government that it is obliged to meet its financial commitments to the EU. Some Tory backbenchers have expressed their extreme displeasure at the idea of having to pay any fee at all, calling it a “Brexit bill” meant to punish the UK.

“In all these, there will be no UK rebate.” Sigmar Gabriel

At the same time, Gabriel noted that the divorce settlement talks should not lead to a “totally hostile relationship” between the two sides.

“We must stay friends,” he said.

“Our priority of the EU’s remaining 27 member states…should be to protect our social and economic interests”, Sigmar Gabriel told the German parliament, a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May launched the two-year negotiation process to quit the EU. As EU leaders squared up for tough negotiations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday rebuffed May’s call for exit talks to run alongside negotiations on future ties between the EU and Britain.

The French President Francois Hollande, yesterday (30 March), presented a common front with Merkel, insisting that details about the UK’s withdrawal, including payment of an exit fee, had to be agreed on first.

“Our priority of the EU’s remaining 27 member states…should be to protect our social and economic interests.” Sigmar Gabriel

Thatcher, and arch eurosceptic, gained a poor reputation in Europe during the mid 80’s for demanding the UK get a “rebate” from the EU because it paid in more than it got out. She famously banged her handbag on the table during an EU meeting. Thatcher would go on to gain a substantial rebate – equivalent to two-thirds of Britain’s net contribution in the previous year – after threatening to halt payments to the bloc’s budget. Germany, which is also a net contributor, is not granted any rebate.

The EU is due to have its first meeting post Article 50 on April 29 to hammer out a common set of negotiation principles to present to the UK Government.

 Picture courtesy of DW-Prestt

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