Tory MPs warn £50bn divorce bill would be a '˜betrayal'

Theresa May is facing fresh challenges over the proposed Brexit 'divorce bill' after Tory backbenchers warned a £50bn figure would be seen as a 'betrayal' by British voters.

Prime Minister Theresa May

The backlash follows reports that negotiating teams have reached an agreement on the UK’s financial obligations to the trading block in the hope of breaking the deadlock on trade talks.

Downing Street has refused to comment on the new figure, stating only that no part of the negotiations are final “until everything is agreed”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But Tory eurosceptics have warned that the offer must not be “a penny more” than the UK is legally obliged to pay, as opposition MPs push for the settlement to be put to a vote.

The so-called divorce bill is one of three key negotiating areas where the EU has demanded to see “sufficient progress” before giving the green light to talks on a future trading relationship.

The role of the European Courts in upholding the rights of EU citizens living abroad has proven to be a sticking point, as has finding a solution to avoiding a hard border with Northern Ireland.

There were hopes that enough progress had been made on the financial settlement when Mrs May gave guarantees that none of the remaining member states would be required to pay more or receive less from the EU budget as a result of Britain’s exit.

However, this failed to impress fellow EU leaders enough to give the go-ahead to phase two of talks when they gathered for the last European Council summit in October.

According to reports, negotiating teams now believe they have reached an agreement ahead of the next crucial summit on December 14-15, with The Telegraph putting the figure at 60bn euros or £53bn.

This is more than double some early estimates of £20bn, and £10bn more than the figure said to have been agreed by senior ministers at a special Cabinet meeting last week.

The amount has received a cautious response from some high-profile Brexiteers, with the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson saying he hoped it would get trade talks “off the rocks”.

The former DWP Secretary Iain Duncan Smith stressed that any offer must hinge on securing a free trade deal with the union, but claimed that “over a 40-year period” it would amount to £360bn in saving to the Treasury.

However, speaking during an urgent debate in the Commons, the veteran Tory eurosceptic Philip Bone condemned the 60bn figure, telling the Treasury Minister Liz Truss “such a move would be betraying the trust of the British people”.

“The 60-odd percent of people in Wellingborough who voted to Leave would want to know what we’re doing with 60bn,” he said. “They would want it spent on the NHS, social care and Defence, they would not want it given to the European Union.”

His criticisms were echoed by the Shipley MP Philip Davies who called for an itemised breakdown of the final financial settlement “and also the legal basis upon which we are making those payments”.

He told Ms Truss: “The UK should pay the EU what we are legally obliged to pay, not a penny more, not a penny less... if there is any spare money going at a time of austerity that should be directed to our priorities in the UK, it should not be giving a bung to the European Union.”

Labour used the debate to announce that they have tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would require any financial settlement to be assessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office, before being scrutinised by Parliament.

The Labour MP Chris Leslie complained about the lack of transparency from the Government over the bill and suggested ministers were “losing control” over the amount.

Pressed on the 60bn figure, both Ms Truss and Mrs May’s official spokesman stressed that negotiations are ongoing, and that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

“The money we have been reading about in the press is speculation, these negotiations are ongoing... and we want to secure value for money for the British taxpayer,” Ms Truss told MPs.

Mrs May, who was yesterday on a whistle-stop tour of the Middle East, is expected to discuss the UK’s financial obligations at a meeting with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday.

Monday will also see the fourth day of debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill.