An anti-brexit demonstrator holds a European Union (EU) flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K. (Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg)

U.K. Must Sign Up to Method for Calculating Brexit Bill, EU Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. must sign up to a method for calculating what it owes the European Union in order for Brexit talks to move on to trade, a senior official from the bloc said, as the 27 remaining nations plan their response if negotiations fail.

“We need a method to be able to reassure the 27 of the solidity of the U.K.’s guarantees,” Stefaan De Rynck, an aide to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said in London on Thursday. His comments came less than a week after a crucial summit at which EU leaders told U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May the discussions hadn’t made “sufficient progress.”

Although May has said the U.K. will “honor” commitments to the EU it has built up over the course of its membership, she has not spelled out what they are for fear of being bound to a number. While Barnier’s team isn’t asking for a concrete figure, it says the U.K. must agree with the EU on the method for calculating what share of the bloc’s unpaid bills and liabilities it is prepared to pay.

The financial settlement has been the most contentious issue in the Brexit negotiations, but it’s important that disagreements don’t bleed into future trade talks, De Rynck said at a conference at the Institute for Government think-tank. The other 27 EU countries are focusing on the “money question” too, because they could be left filling any financial gap left by the U.K.’s withdrawal.

“We need to take the drama out of that question in the U.K. before it becomes a drama in the 27,” De Rynck said. “If we do not do that, we might not find ourselves with the serenity and the calm that we will need in 2018 to construct together that new relationship.”

Divergent Demands

The EU wants a divorce settlement of about 60 billion euros ($70 billion), and the U.K.’s offer so far is about a third of that. While a methodology may allow informal calculations of an approximate number, the final sum that Britain pays won’t be known until it leaves the bloc in March 2019, if ever.

EU countries agreed on Wednesday to draw up plans among themselves in case talks do not make a breakthrough in December.

De Rynck said the threat of talks ending without a deal should not form part of the negotiations because reaching a mutually helpful agreement is in the interests of both the U.K. and the EU. 

Even so, the EU is preparing contingency plans for “no deal,” he said. Barnier has previously stated that the bloc will be ready for all eventualities, including the failure to reach an accord.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.