Lord Mandelson has said any EU ‘exit bill’ would be “small change” and the United Kingdom should pay up as soon as possible.
The former European commissioner and cabinet minister said today Theresa May needed to “bite the bullet” in the upcoming negotiations and “settle the tab”.
It has been reported that Brussels could demand the UK pay £50bn on its way out the door in order to settle commitments it made as a member.
It could be a hard sell for the prime minister. A recent Guardian/ICM poll found that at least two thirds of British voters were opposed to paying the EU a bill of £10bn or more.
Speaking at the Institute for Government in London today, Lord Mandelson said May should be “brave”.
“Let’s do it sooner rather than later so we can then retain as much time as possible, as much negotiating good will, as much trust and good atmospherics, to focus and invest in the really important negotiation which is about our future trading relationship,” he said.
“It’s not going to be a vast sum of money,” he said. “As a percentage of public spending and GDP in this country, given it’s going to be paid over many years, it’s small change.”
He added: “I would deal with the small change of the financial settlement in the first negotiation as quickly as you can.”
Lord Mandelson also also said May needed to face down the “wildmen” in the Conservative Party who were happy for the UK to leave the EU without a trade deal.
“I do not think leaving without a trade deal in prospect would receive parliamentary approval,” he predicted.
“The impact on market confidence, on interest rates and the cost of borrowing, and on the value of the pound would be severe. The most vulnerable, the most indebted, the ones with the least to fall back on, would suffer fastest and most.”
Earlier today, the European Parliament agreed its position in the Brexit negotiations - including a demand that the UK agree to pay a financial settlement before it left.