Report says British government has no legal obligation to pay for Brexit or outstanding payments into EU budget.
The UK could walk away from the European Union in 2019 without paying a penny, the House of Lordshas said, in a report bound to raise tensions with Brussels in the run-up to Brexit talks.
The British government would have no legal obligation to either pay a €60bn (£52bn) Brexit bill mooted by the European commission or honour payments into the EU budget promised by the former prime minister David Cameron, according to analysis by the House of Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee.
In a report published on Saturday, the committee argues that the British government would be on strong legal ground if it chose to leave the EU without paying anything, adding that Brussels would have no realistic chance of getting any money.
“The UK appears to have a strong legal position in respect of the EU budget post-Brexit and this provides important context to the article 50 negotiations,” said Lady Falkner of Margravine, the Liberal Democrat peer who chairs the sub-committee.
“Even though we consider that the UK will not be legally obliged to pay into the EU budget after Brexit, the issue will be a prominent factor in withdrawal negotiations. The government will have to set the financial and political costs of making such payments against potential gains from other elements of the negotiations.”
Ingeborg Grässle, a German centre-right MEP who chairs the European parliament’s budget control committee, said she was astonished at the “really disappointing” conclusions. “It is not about the money. It is about responsibilities. The question is, do you stick to your engagements?” she told the Guardian.
Grässle, who gave evidence to the Lords committee, described their conclusion as “putting the knife on the table” and said, if taken, the approach would damage Britain’s Brexit negotiations.
The peers’ argument will be toxic to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, whose staff drew up the mooted bill ranging from €55bn-€60bn (£47bn-£52bn). This covers the UK’s share of EU civil staff pensions, unpaid bills and decommissioning nuclear power plants.
Barnier is expecting the UK to pay into the EU budget in 2019 and 2020, putting the UK on the hook for payments worth £12.4bn, agreed by Cameron in 2013.
The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has hinted that Britain may pay into the EU budget to get single market access, but large payments would be a political problem for the Conservative government. Setting out her Brexit vision last month, Theresa May said: “The days of Britain making vast contributions to the European Union every year will end.”
So much for the bullying tone and bluster coming from Brussels.