Brexit divorce bill to be settled without legal guarantees on trade deal

PUBLISHED: 16:09 23 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:23 23 May 2018

Suella Braverman, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Brexit department, gives evidence to the select committee

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The £39bn Brexit divorce bill could be signed off by Parliament without any formal legal commitments on a future trade deal with the European Union, MPs have been told.

Brexit minister Suella Braverman acknowledged there was currently no explicit condition in the withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU but both sides had promised to act in "good faith".

And she said MPs would be asked to vote on the Brexit deal - including the divorce bill - before the terms of the future relationship were set out in a legal text.

But she told the Commons Brexit committee: "The prime minister has made very clear that the offer on the financial settlement is made as part of a broader package relating [to], and in the spirit of our future partnership.

"So the two will be connected when we vote in October."

The financial settlement is expected to cost the taxpayer £35-£39bn to cover the UK's outstanding commitments and liabilities.

Labour MP Pat McFadden asked her: "Isn't it the case that the financial settlement which we are going to be asked to vote on in October, we will be asked to vote on that before we have a legal treaty before us on the future relationship?"

Mrs Braverman said: "Yes, I don't deny that there will be a legal treaty which will be forthcoming on the framework."

Mr McFadden asked whether the government would therefore seek to insert conditions into the phase one withdrawal agreement.

Mrs Braverman said that as drafted it did not contain conditions on the divorce bill but "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" and "there is agreed a duty of good faith".

She told MPs: "The duty of good faith should not be ignored in this context, it is more than just words and it does apply to the attitude and the way in which an agreement on the future framework will be struck."

She added that if there was a change in circumstances and the UK wanted to stop making payments to Brussels that would require renegotiating the deal.

After the hearing Mr McFadden, who supports the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said: "The mess Suella Braverman got into over payments to the EU is a stark illustration of the complete chaos in government over Brexit.

"She was forced to admit that the financial settlement with the EU is part of the withdrawal agreement and is not conditional on agreement on the future relationship. So much for taking back control.

"The Tories have agreed to pay tens of billions for a worse deal than we have now and without having any guarantees about what we will get for it in return.

"Having admitted this, in order to try to appease the Brexiters and shield them from the reality of what the government has agreed she then issued a threat that the UK may not stick by its word and might seek to reopen the issue a year or two down the line. "

Downing Street insisted that Parliament would vote on the withdrawal deal along with "the terms of our future relationship".

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "We have been absolutely clear that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

"We are clear that we intend to agree the future framework at the same time as the withdrawal agreement.

"Article 50 sets out that the withdrawal agreement should take account of the forms of the departing statement's future relationship with the EU.

"This means Parliament will vote on the withdrawal agreement at the same time as the terms of our future relationship with the EU."

Asked about Mrs Braverman's comments during a press conference in Chile, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said: "Article 50 makes it absolutely clear that the terms of the withdrawal have to be seen in the context of the future relationship.

"I just remind you of the basic fact of negotiations, which is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

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