Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
30 March 2017updated 08 Sep 2021 7:38am

Beware Tory Brexiteers trying to wreck EU negotiations

It is not in the interests of either moderate Tories or the opposition to let them. 

By Catherine West

Our government has promised the United Kingdom the exact same benefits when it leaves the European Union that we have enjoyed while in. 

In the words of David Davis, Brexit secretary, the government’s plan is “a comprehensive free-trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.

The negotiations that lie ahead are unprecedented and will be difficult and complex. It’s unlikely a deal will be reached in two years that can guarantee what Davis has promised – and what Labour holds the government to account on, as outlined this week by my colleague Sir Keir Stamer. But reaching a deal we must. It would be economic and political idiocy not to.

We know that those on the EU’s side of negotiations are not willing to negotiate on trade or customs without first making a deal on the Irish border, treatment of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, and money owed. If these are not agreed to, we will have no deal at all.

In precise terms, a leaked letter from the European Parliament said the UK should pay all its liabilities “arising from outstanding commitments as well as make provision for off-balance sheet items, contingent liabilities and other financial costs that arise directly as a result of its withdrawal”.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

It added that without a withdrawal agreement on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the border in Ireland, the UK “would exit automatically the union on 30 March 2019 and this in a disorderly manner”.

Content from our partners
The cost-of-living crisis is hitting small businesses – Liz Truss must act
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs

Brussels estimates the bill to be around €60bn. Aside from the fact we will need to pay (or be open to negotiating some of the bill) as a prerequisite for future negotiations, it is the right approach to take. These are liabilities stemming from obligations that our country has made. It would not be right to renege on them simply because we do not want to pay. And, if we want a co-operative relationship in the future, we must be reasonable and willing to negotiate now.

Yet there is a small cohort of Conservative MPs that are saying just that.

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin’s response on the potential of failing to reach a trade deal? “If they want us to pay too much for that, we say no, that’s okay, we’ll pay the tariffs.” He laster added that we “won’t have to pay a penny if we don’t want to”. Earlier this month, when asked about the prospect of paying our bills, Foreign secretary Boris Johnson responded: “I think we have illustrious precedent in this matter: I think you can recall the 1984 Fontainebleau summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back and I think that is exactly what we will get.”

This is not a party political matter. Former Tory frontbencher Nicky Morgan  has said there are some members of her party who seem to want to pick a fight with the EU and not strike a very positive tone.

This negative tone is the least of our worries. There are legitimate fears in many corners of Westminster that a small group of Conservative MPs are trying to highjack the EU negotiations, get a number of newspapers on side, and refuse to pay a penny with the specified goal of crashing of the negotiations and bouncing Britain onto World Trade Organisation rules.

We know this would be devastating for our economy, for jobs, and for investment. Failing to reach a deal would be bad for everyone, but particularly for the UK.

True enough, Davis has acknowledged that the UK should pay something, but that the amount is open to negotiation.

The Prime Minister must stand up strongly to a small group of her own party’s backbenchers, who are actively trying to disrupt her efforts to negotiate with the EU.

Catherine West is the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.