BIARRITZ – Boris Johnson has said the £39bn Brexit divorce bill would not “strictly speaking” be owed to Brussels in full in the event of no deal, insisting: “It’s not a threat. It’s a reality.”
Speaking to broadcasters as he prepared to meet the European council president, Donald Tusk, at the G7 summit in Biarritz, Johnson said: “If we come out without an agreement it is certainly true that the £39bn is no longer, strictly speaking, owed.”
He told ITV: “There will be very substantial sums available to our country to spend on our priorities. It’s not a threat. It’s a simple fact of reality.”
His intervention came after Tusk warned Johnson against going down in history as “Mr No Deal”.
During the Conservative leadership campaign, Johnson suggested the entire £39bn would be retained in the hope of using it as leverage to win a better future trading relationship from the EU27, saying: “Money is a great solvent and a great lubricant.”
But Downing Street appears to have conceded that legal obligations for past liabilities may mean up to a quarter of it may still have to be paid.
The remarks on the divorce bill are likely to infuriate Britain’s EU27 counterparts, who are still awaiting detailed proposals from London about how to maintain a soft border in Ireland after Brexit. However, Johnson claimed the chances of renegotiating Britain’s exit had improved after his trips to Berlin and Paris. “In the last few days there has been a change of mood in the EU,” he said.