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Interview: Britain needs to come to terms with Brexit divorce bill: experts
BY 2017-08-30 10:13:58

by Larry Neild

LONDON, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- The tricky issue of what Britain will have to pay in its European Union (EU) divorce bill is a question that will not go away, British expert Iain Begg said in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.

Responding to the claim by the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier that Brexit talks were too slow, Begg said he had a point.

Begg is a leading EU expert at the London School of Economics European Institute and has followed the progress of the Brexit wrangle since Britain first announced the issue would be put to the nation in a referendum.

On Monday, at the start of a new round of negotiations in Brussels, Barnier called for Britain to take talks over exiting the EU more seriously, expressing concern that time was passing and progress had not been made on the terms of Britain's departure.

"We need UK positions on all separation issues. This is necessary to make sufficient progress," Begg agreed. "We must start negotiating seriously."

"Barnier has a point," he said, adding that Britain's so-called divorce bill remained a key sticking point in the negotiations, one of the key separation issues mentioned by Barnier on Monday.

"The question of the divorce bill will not go away, Britain has to adopt a position on this," said Begg.

Both Britain and the EU played down the prospect of a breakthrough in the ongoing Brexit talks as the EU insists substantial progress be made in paying the divorce bill before moving to the next phase of negotiations.

Begg said the European Council, the administrative arm of the EU, had mandated Barnier on three key separation issues -- the Irish border, citizens' rights, and the divorce settlement.

With talks with the European Council due in October, the timetable is becoming tight, said Begg.

"The payment is something I have long believed would be a sticking point," he said. "There is the amount Britain must pay, with some putting the figure at 100 billion euros (120 billion U.S. dollars), while there has been some indications in Britain it could be between 30 to 40 billion euros, so there is a big gap to bridge."

"I would have put the amount at around 40 billion euros," said Begg.

In 2013, Britain signed the EU's seven-year framework, and a case has been put forward that Britain remains legally committed to that, explained Begg.

The question is whether Britain feels it can bale out before the end of that seven-year period.

"The view has been taken that whether Britain likes it or not, it is a binding commitment," he said. "Ultimately, it will be a political decision."

"On the other side is the great difficulty for Europe if Britain does not fulfill its commitment to the framework," he said.

"For example, it could mean money promised to Poland under the framework would not be forthcoming if Britain didn't pay, or alternatively Germany may have to pay more to make up for the loss of British money. A face saving way around this would be for the framework to be played out until 2020."

Begg agreed that inevitably the Brexit negotiations were like a game of poker.

"Issues such as the Irish border and citizens rights, far from being trivial, are relatively easy things to sort out. But the money issue is more of a problem," he said.

Amit Kara, head of UK macroeconomic forecasting at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) in London, was not surprised by Barnier's comments.

"It is a case of posturing on both sides and my sense is that things would always be bad before they got better, so it should come as no surprise that we have seen acrimony and uncertainty," Kara said.

"It is clear there will be a need to give and take on both sides, but at the coal face what is needed is settling the key separation issues," Kara said.

"Whatever happens we need to avoid a cliff edge. We are already seeing signs that businesses are putting plans on hold as they wait to see what happens."

"It is also clear that a good deal for the UK will be bad for the EU, but the clock is ticking as these negotiations continue," said Kara. "It is a question of who will blink first. My sense is that as Britain is smaller and more divided over Brexit, it could be us."

Former leader of the Conservatives, William Hague, sprung to the defence of Britain's negotiation approach by attacking and blaming the EU.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Hague said that Europe's circular way of negotiating suits their side and gives Britain the runaround, increasing pressure on the British government.

(Editor:Li Zhaoqi) (From:xinhua)
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