Senior Cabinet ministers have agreed to increase Britain’s Brexit payment to the EU – but only if Brussels and London “jump together” on agreeing new talks on trade and transition deals.
After a two-hour meeting in Downing Street, a special Cabinet committee decided to up the UK’s financial offer towards its “divorce bill” on leaving the bloc in 2019.
But despite speculation that the offer will nearly double from 20bn euros to 38bn euros, no specific figure was discussed as Theresa May chaired the gathering of a top team finely-balanced between former ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’.
MPs are set to vote on fresh amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill on Tuesday, hours after the full Cabinet is expected to confirm the broad strategy of pledging more money to Brussels in return for guarantees on future trade talks.
HuffPost UK understands that the Cabinet Exit and Trade (Strategy and Negotiations) sub-committee agreed on Monday to allow Brexit Secretary David Davis to offer more money to the EU to strengthen his negotiating hand.
Senior Brexiteers including Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Michael Gove all agreed to the move in a bid to break the deadlock in talks with the EU’s Michel Barnier ahead of a crunch EU summit in December.
May will put the new offer, which is unlikely to feature a specific figure but will indicate more funds, to EU council president Donald Tusk on Friday.
But despite claims that the Cabinet committee agreed a continuing role for the European Court of Justice to decide the rights of EU citizens after Brexit, HuffPost has been told that “the ECJ is unresolved”. A hybrid version of the court may be needed for issues such as trade.
In the meeting, Brexiteers were outnumbered by six to four and will be even more of a minority when the full Cabinet meets on Tuesday.
Yet although they have given ground on offering more cash, Johnson and Gove dug in on their backing for Davis’ line that the EU will have to offer a clear plan for trade and transition talks at the same time.
Several Tory MPs warned that the British public would go “bananas” if the UK offered 40bn euros, but may be reassured by the link to trade.
A No 10 source cited Brussels’ own mantra on summit talks: “It remains our position that nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed in negotiations with the EU.”
One unnamed Cabinet minister said after the talks that they were “not unhappy” with the outcome. Home Secretary Amber Rudd also told Sky News: “It was a very good meeting.”
However, the Times reports leading backbench Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg urging May to seize on Angela Merkel’s domestic political problems to drive a hard bargain.
“Approving a higher divorce bill at this stage would be foolish,” Rees- Mogg said. “As for Germany, its domestic political concerns make it less likely that it would want to risk the damage that could be done to its industry from the UK imposing tariffs on its exports.”
Duncan Smith added: “When you look at what is going on in Europe the idea that out of that chaotic situation can come any sort of understanding is clearly not right, so we will have to sit tight.”
Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned the UK on Monday that Europe would block a future trade deal if Britain tore up EU regulations on banking, industry, food and the environment.
He also said Britain could not cherry-pick which the type of trade deal it wanted or stay half-in, half-out of the EU, repeating May’s phrase “Brexit means Brexit”.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn came under fire from some of his MPs after whipping them to vote with the Tories to prepare the UK to quit the EU single market.
MPs were ordered to vote against an amendment by backbencher Ian Murray that would have ensured current customs levies remain the same.