Analysis

Just wait to see May get MPs to approve £40bn divorce bill

by Nick Kent | 15.12.2017

The government is reeling after its defeat on the EU Withdrawal Bill. Getting Parliament’s approval to pay the EU divorce of £40 billion will be even more difficult

Last week ministers reached agreement with Brussels about the cost of the UK’s departure from the EU.  Although no official figure has been published, estimates suggest that we will have to pay at least £35-40 billion, and possibly much more, in order to leave. What no one has focused on yet is that the government won’t be able to pay a penny if it cannot get the House of Commons to agree. But, as Wednesday night’s vote on the Withdrawal Bill demonstrated, that won’t be easy.

Ministers have accepted that the Brexit agreement including, crucially, its financial element will require fresh legislation. This means that Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the details of the divorce agreement and its approval will be required for the agreement to proceed.

The usual way to get approval from MPs to expenditure as a result of legislation is through a money resolution – that is, a motion put to the Commons agreeing that any monies that need to be spent as a result of a Bill can be met from public funds. Contrary to some reports, the government cannot avoid this; it is a constitutional requirement that the Commons approves all public expenditure. In order to get a money resolution, ministers must state publicly when publishing a Bill its financial implications.

It is easy to see circumstances in which the necessity for this vote will become a crisis for the government. No Brexiter wants to give away £35-40 billion of British taxpayers’ money.  Before the government had reached agreement on the divorce bill, Brexit-supporting MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg were claiming that the UK had no legal obligation to pay anything at all to the EU.  Former Cabinet minister Priti Patel was even more blunt: the government should tell the EU to “sod off” over its demand that the UK meets its financial obligations she said.

As if that was not bad enough, there is no reason why the Labour party and the other opposition parties would feel obliged to back the government and vote for a Brexit divorce cost they have not negotiated. It is easy to imagine Labour and the SNP saying, “think what £35 billion could do for the NHS”. A combination of Brexiters and opposition parties could defeat the money resolution, provoking a major crisis. And that is without any rebel Tory Remainers opposing ministers.

It is one thing to stand up to reluctant rebels amongst the backbench Remainers, but quite another to face down the militant Brexiters. So far their voice on the divorce bill has been (relatively) muted. Yet Theresa May could find herself having to face them down in a year’s time and it will be an awful lot more difficult than Wednesday’s vote on the Withdrawal Bill.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

6 Responses to “Just wait to see May get MPs to approve £40bn divorce bill”

  • On the subject of the £40 bn divorce bill, I’m sure there’s a major issue which has been completely missed here by the Brexiteers with financial learning disabilities: this is the reconciliation of the UK’s current divorce settlement compared to the cost of a new trade deal, which will obviously have an annual cost. Just look at Norway, for example.

    According to fullfact.org, Norway pays £740 m. into the EU, based upon a population of ca. 5.3 million people, or £140 per person.

    In comparison, they say that the UK pays £14,000 m. (£14 bn) now to the EU, based upon ca. 63.6 m. people, or £220 / person.

    Hence, Norway pays ca. 64% of the amount of the UK. Just on the assumption that the Norwegian trade deal is a good one, necessary for the UK to maintain it’s fragile economy, this implies that the UK could also be paying around £140 per person for it’s much larger population, which calculates at £8,800 m. to the EU every year.

    Upon conclusion of a trade deal, the UK would be paying this amount for the benefit of:

    • Making sure that the UK‘s trade in goods and service stays intact
    • Without any political representation
    • Without any more rebates, or regional development grants
    • Without any participation in any EU scientific or educational programmes
    • Without hosting any EU services and programmes

    On the above basis, I cannot possibly see that any person in their right mind believes that the cost of Brexit makes sense! It doesn’t make sense, it’s deranged!

  • May will of signed it off by now to move on trade amidst false promises as she is not going to get anything. Needs to walk out now -talk later if they want to— they will!. Not in a week but before 2019 and be prepared to talk some sense if she has the guts to call their bluff. Which May has not got any guts or spine. Needs someone like Mogg who will discuss correctly.

  • I disagree with Vivian—I’m totally unconvinced Moggie fits the bill. His contrived lofty, languid, pedantic and overly pompous posture reminds me of the Duke of Plaza Toro in Gilbert & Sullivans’ Gondoliers. The refrain went “that elevated, underrated, cultivated nobleman, the Duke of Plaza Toro”
    My modern version goes “that elevated, overrated, elongated brexiter, the pin-striped sprog of Rees-Mogg”.
    Check it out ——–it scans——let’s get “the pin-striped sprog of Rees-Mogg” into the vernacular!

  • If only the PM would not exclude sensible alternatives such as membership of the EEA or EFTA, we could strike a deal which would remove hundreds of the complications and problems to businesses and individuals (and solve the NI border).
    Membership of the above would require a membership fee, but there would a very strong incentive for all parties to fix this at a reasonable level, as it would be a win/win for all parties.

  • Vivian is thinking along the lines of’ ‘The Germans won”t want to lose their car sales to the UK,they’ll soon come to heel”
    They didn”t and the EU won’t as they hold all the cards.