Britain launches ‘line by line’ challenge to huge divorce bill being demanded by the EU

BRITAIN last night launched a line by line challenge to the EU’s “crazy” £85billion Brexit divorce bill at crunch talks in Brussels.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said it was “time to get down to work” as he met with the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels to kick-off four days of intense negotiations over the UK’s departure.

David Davis was in Brussels for the second round of talks with Michel Barnier

And Treasury finance chief Mark Bowman demanded answers from EU officials over their demand for the UK to cough up a bumper financial settlement as it leaves the bloc.

Mr Barnier is demanding the UK agree to a payout before negotiations on a new trade bill post Brexit in March 2019 can begin.

But a senior UK source told The Sun: “We will be going through their paper line by line to find out the basis of what they’re asking for.

“A bill of 100billion euros is crazy.”

The two men are haggling over the divorce bill Britain must pay

EU insiders claim they want between £70billion to £85billion from Britain to make up for the huge hole Brexit will leave in the Commission’s coffers – given Britain’s contribution to the annual budget.

As well as future pension costs the bill could even include Britain’s share of a potential legal bill from a trade dispute with the US over illegal subsidies to Airbus.

Yesterday marked the first time the divorce bill has come up in formal talks. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last week insisted Brussels could “go whistle” for the cash – sparking a bitter row with Mr Barnier.

But Mr Davis on Friday admitted Britain would have “obligations” to fulfil after we leave. A Czech official yesterday said some payments – such as those for the Common Agriculture Policy – would last until 2023.

Boris Johnson in Downing Street
Boris Johnson last week said the EU could ‘go whistle’ over the huge Brexit divorce bill
PA:Press Association

Downing Street yesterday refused to say when the government will put its own figure on a financial settlement. The PM’s official spokesman would only say: “Preparatory work has been taking place across a full range of areas.”

Mr Davis sparked ridicule on social media yesterday by leaving Brussels just an hour after he turned up – and appeared to forget his notes.

But sources said some 98 UK officials would be taking part in this week’s talks – which will also centre on citizens’ rights and a future border in between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Senior EU diplomats yesterday criticised the “chaos” in the UK government as the negotiations began.

One Brussels negotiator said: “The likelihood of Brexit by default has increase. If you hear three negotiators in London, you get three different Brexit concepts.”

Jeremy Corbyn gave the EU's Brexit negotiator an Arsenal shirt when they met in Brussels today
Jeremy Corbyn gave the EU’s Brexit negotiator an Arsenal shirt when they met in Brussels last week

But yesterday morning Mr Barnier insisted this week’s round of Brexit talks would “delve into the heart of the matter”. He said: “I look forward to our negotiations.

“We need to examine and compare our respective positions in order to make good progress.”

Speaking alongside at a press conference, David Davis added: “We’re not getting into the substance of the matter. For us it’s incredibly important we now make good progress.

“That we negotiate through this and identify the differences, so that we can deal with them and identify the similarities so that we can move forward.”

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