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The EU’s divorce bill demand is good news for Theresa May

Nothing has happened yet to jeopardise a deal where Britain pays an outsized contribution for the standard of EU access the economy needs

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May doesn’t hit the big 6-0 until 1 October, but the FT has decided to give her their present early: the news that the EU has increased the size of the proposed divorce to between €82bn to €100bn, up from €40bn to €60bn.

Driving the increase are tougher demands from Germany and France, who now want continuing farm payments as well as for the United Kingdom’s share of the assets – which would reduce the overall payment – to be reduced.

On the subject of the payment, although the phrase “divorce bill” has become an accepted shorthand at Westminster, a better analogy is to see it as leaving a dinner midway through but leaving some money for your starter and drinks. And frankly, the cost is well below what Britain would pay directly and indirectly after the economic shock of leaving the European Union without a deal.

The politics of it all are fantastic for Theresa May. Despite the fact that there is no relation between the size of May’s majority and her influence in the EU, voters seem to have bought into the idea that they need to get behind the PM to get a better Brexit deal, at least according to the word from candidates on the ground. Anything which increases the profile of Brexit is good news for the Tories.

But unlike most Brexit issues, this could actually work out well for May after the election. The PM has already conspicuously not ruled out continuing to pay into the EU after we leave, notionally for programmes supporting scientific research and security, which the government hopes to continue to participate in after Brexit

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The increased demand is being driven by France and Germany, two creditor nations who fear being left with a bill of their own should Britain skip out without standing its round. It’s a reminder that money is one of the few areas where the United Kingdom generally has leverage. And frankly, the bigger the asking demand the easier it is for everyone for May to secure a hefty discount on the headline bill.

It’s a reminder that for all the fuss of the last few weeks, nothing has happened yet to jeopardise the deal suggested in Theresa May’s Article 50 letter, where Britain pays an outsized contribution for the standard of EU access the economy needs.