It pains to have to point out that Martin Selmayr is in fact correct here. Britain owes money to the European Union and that money must be paid. It doesn’t matter what the divorce arrangements are concerning Brexit, it’s just one of those amounts of money which must be coughed up. For, it’s not actually a divorce bill at all. We’ll have to pay it if we stay in the EU, we’ve got to pay it if we leave. Thus it’s not in fact a divorce bill at all:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Martin Selmayr, the feared and powerful secretary-general of the European Commission, has told British MPs at a Brussels meeting that the UK must pay the £39 billion Brexit bill even if there is a no-deal exit . Mr Selmayr, who is the most senior EU civil servant, warned on Monday that the future relationship between the UK and EU could be jeopardised by a refusal to pay the financial settlement after no deal. The warning could be interpreted as a thinly veiled threat that, in the event of a no deal, a furious EU would refuse any free trade negotiations unless Britain settled its accounts. [/perfectpullquote]
Despite the contempt that Selmayr is held in by all right thinking people he does have a point here. The UK signed up to a contract which said that we’d pay for certain things. If we stay in the EU then we’ll have to pay for those things. If we leave we’ll still have to pay for those things. Not because they are costs of being in or out, but because they’re sums that we agreed we would pay.
Or, as we’ve pointed out before, there is in fact no divorce bill:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The correct arrangement being that we’ve been a member of a club for some decades now. We have a certain intertwining of finances to pay for certain things, some scientific cooperation, the cash stuffed into the maws of farmers and so on. There are budgets, a cycle for deciding upon them. We’re leaving before the end of that current cycle and we have previously promised that we’ll pay up to the end of that planned period. Sure, we owe some money simply because we’ve previously said we’ll pay it.[/perfectpullquote] [perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We’re civilised people, we don’t welsh on our debts, that’s that then. There is, other than just not annoying the foreigners, no connection at all between this discharge of our promises and whatever a future trade deal is. Even the European Union itself has made this point – the bill is the bill whatever subsequently happens.[/perfectpullquote]
And as to what the deal might be after we leave? Well, if we welsh on our debts then people are going to be looking more than a little askance at any of our future promises, aren’t they?
This is entirely different from what the size of that bill should be. Whether we should get back the capital sums to which we’re arguably due. Say, the accumulated profits of the European Investment Bank – our answer is yes, others differ – and the embassies, parliament buildings we’ve helped pay for.
But yes, there are some sums of money that we’ve promised to pay which we’ve not as yet paid. We’re going to have to pay them. Selmayr – spit – is right.