This is because of the EU’s request for the UK to pay a hefty divorce bill of £39billion. Last August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the bloc that the 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 then 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 £39billion 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 Mr Tusk warned Mr Johnson against going down in history as “Mr No Deal”.
Now the UK is out of the EU and further down the transition period, the bill may not be as large as the £39billion figure.
BBC Reality Check and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimated when the Brexit date was October 31, 2019, that the bill had fallen to £32.8billion.
The OBR estimated in January that the bill stood at just under £30billion – most of this to be paid by 2022, with some relatively small payments still being made until the 2060s.
French President Emmanuel Macron has backed Brussels’ determination to secure the divorce bill.
In June 2019, he told Boris Johnson that if the UK tried to withhold the huge payment, talks could be scuppered.
He said the divorce payment could be treated like a sovereign debt default. Nations not repaying money they have borrowed – those which default on their sovereign debt – are punished by international markets.
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“In getting a good deal, money is a great solvent and a great lubricant.”
But a source close to Mr Macron said an attempt to evade the bill would meet “consequences”.
They said: “Not honouring your payment obligations is a failure of international commitments equivalent to a sovereign debt default, whose consequences are well known.”
Then-European Parliament chief Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, also responded in hostile fashion.
He tweeted: “This would not only hurt the UK’s credibility as an international partner but it is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts what almost every lawyer in the UK thinks about it.”