BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain has offered to pay much of what the European Union was demanding to settle a Brexit “divorce bill”, bringing the two sides close to agreement on a key obstacle to opening talks on a future free trade pact, EU sources said.
The offer, which British newspapers valued at around 50 billion euros, reflected the bulk of outstanding EU demands that include London paying a share of post-Brexit EU spending on commitments made before Britain leaves in March 2019 as well as funding of EU staff pensions for decades to come.
A British government official said they “do not recognise” this account of the talks going on ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Theresa May to Brussels this coming Monday.
EU officials close to the negotiations stressed that work was still continuing ahead of May’s talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. But EU diplomats briefed on progress said the British offer was promising and that, on the financial settlement, the two sides were, as one said, “close to a deal”.
Nonetheless, others cautioned that Britain had yet to make a fully committed offer and that essential agreement from the other 27 member states could not yet be taken for granted.
The EU set the condition of “significant progress” on three key elements of a withdrawal treaty before it would accede to London’s request for negotiations on a free trade pact that could keep business flowing after Brexit in 16 months.
It set a deadline of Monday for that progress to be made if EU leaders were to give a green light at a summit on December 14-15.
On the issue of the rights of EU citizens in Britain, EU negotiators are still pressing Britain to accept that European judges should have a final say on enforcing those rights.