The Brexit divorce bill “settlement” shows how the UK is wasting precious time

Divorce talks.
Divorce talks.
Image: Reuters/Christian Hartmann
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Britain has just 16 months until it leaves the European Union and so far it has wasted most of its time on negotiating the amount it owes the bloc once it leaves—the divorce bill. According to a range of media outlets, from the Financial Times (paywall) to the BBC, the UK has agreed to pay up to €50 billion ($59 billion) and the government is set to confirm this next week.

However, the reason why it is a waste of time is because we all knew that when Britain became a member of the 28-nation bloc, it agreed to a whole range of rules—including the EU’s long-term budget and contributing to huge infrastructure projects that have a long time frame for completion. We also know that the UK committed to pay the EU budget until the end of 2020. That’s part of the contract.

A settlement figure of €60 billion (paywall) was floated around for a long time, mainly due to the calculations of the liabilities the UK owes, minus what assets Britain has in the EU, such as property. But prime minister Theresa May and her government still thought there was huge amount of wiggle room to offer up a paltry €20 billion, which barely covers the liabilities it owes. The EU called that “peanuts” and also didn’t even touch the sides on the contractual obligations the UK has with the bloc.

All that did was prolong the first set of talks that it needed to complete in order to move forward on even more complicated matters such as immigration and trade conditions.

But maybe now, if it can also finalize the issue of determining EU citizens’ rights in the UK and the status of the Northern Irish border, Britain has a chance to sort out a Brexit deal in time for March 29, 2019.