The UK is already challenging Brussels over its Brexit divorce bill plans, David Davis has said as he laughed off concerns about Boris Johnson’s controversial suggestion the EU could “go whistle” if it makes “extortionate” demands.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the Foreign Secretary of arrogance and peers raised worries over how his comments will be received in the rest of the bloc.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested that the bill, which covers outstanding liabilities for programmes which the UK signed up to as an EU member, as well as ongoing costs including staff pensions, could be around £50 billion, while unconfirmed reports have claimed it could reach almost twice that figure.
Mr Davis said the British strategy on the divorce bill was “not to pay more than we need to” and will not accept the EU’s “first claim” without going through it line by line.
“There will be a process of challenge going on here and that will happen and has started already in the negotiated process to establish whether or not we believe in that particular case they have made a legally defensible argument or not,” he said.
Asked about Mr Johnson’s comments, the Brexit Secretary laughed before telling peers: “Bluntly, I wouldn’t worry. I mean you will have to get the Foreign Secretary here to explain his views if you really wanted to. I’m not going to comment on other ministers.”
The Foreign Secretary was responding in the House of Commons to questions over the proposed “divorce bill” which the UK is expected to receive next week as Brexit negotiations resume in Brussels.
Addressing Mr Johnson at foreign affairs questions in the Commons, Tory eurosceptic Philip Hollobone said the UK had made a net contribution of £209 billion to the EU since joining in 1973, adding: “Will you make it clear to the EU that if they want a penny piece more then they can go whistle?”
Mr Johnson replied: “I’m sure that your words will have broken like a thunderclap over Brussels and they will pay attention to what you have said.
“He makes a very valid point and I think that the sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate and I think ‘to go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression.”
Speaking outside the Commons chamber, Mr Corbyn said: “I think it is ridiculous for the Foreign Secretary to approach important and serious negotiations with that silly, arrogant language that he so often employs.
“Treat people with respect and there’s a fair chance you will be treated with respect in return. If you start on the basis of those silly remarks, what kind of response does he expect to get?”