THE EUROPEAN Parliament’s top Brexit negotiator has said Britain could face a £500billion (€600bn) Brexit divorce bill – ten times the figure initially expected.
Late last year it was widely reported Eurocrats were planning on slapping the UK with a £50billion (€60billion) exit bill as punishment for voting to abandon Brussels in the June referendum.
The EU defended the demand as it argued Britain had unpaid budget commitments, pension liabilities and loan guarantees to honour.
At the time, Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, vowed to make the UK pay the sum in full as Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50.
However, Guy Verhofstadt has now said he expects Britain to cough up over £500bn to the European Union as it extricates itself from Brussels.
BBC Newsnight host Evan Davis asked the former Belgian Prime Minister about the potential financial liabilities linked to Brexit.
Mr Verhofstadt replied: “What I know is the outstanding commitments now and before Britain will leave the European Union will in total be around €600billion (£513billion).
“That’s the reality and you can find in the accounts of the EU.”
Reacting to the inflammatory remarks, Gerard Batten MEP, Ukip’s Brexit spokesperson, said:”He should be told to get lost. Forty-four years of EU membership has cost Britain billions in direct contributions, billions in implementing thousands of EU laws, and the loss of our fishing industry untold billions more, to name just few of the staggering costs.
“Her Majesty’s Government should be sending the EU a bill. We were mad to join in the first place and now let’s just cut our losses and get out as quickly as possible.”
Last week, Lord Kerr, the Briton who wrote Article 50, also suggested the final exit figure could be higher than the previously quoted £50bn.
In December, Mr Barnier told colleagues the UK will keep paying “tens of billions” annually into the EU budget until 2020.
At the time former Work and Pensions Secretary and Leave campaigner Iain Duncan Smith described the figures as a “dreadful joke”.
He said the true figure will actually amount to “peanuts”.
Mr Duncan Smith said: “It’s playing to the gallery to try and persuade Britain to beg for mercy. We will not. This is based on their fevered imagination, not reality.
“The Remainers will use this to try to stop Brexit, it’s project fear all over again. It is utter, total rubbish from Mr Barnier. You expect more. He will keep trying to get his mouth into the media.
“There are real questions about what we owe, it’s probably peanuts. He is deploying the tactics of project fear. People won’t believe it.”
Dominic Raab, a former justice minister, said: “Good luck with that. I’m not sure Monsieur Barnier has quite mastered the art of expectation management, but it’s good to know he’s got a sense of humour.”
The Czech Republic’s Europe minister, Tomas Prouza, said the huge sums were the “only things the UK has already committed itself to paying”.
When asked if British people should expect a bill worth tens of billions of pounds, Mr Prouza responded: “Definitely.
“This is what the UK has already committed to pay, and we would expect that the UK would honour its commitments. It will be one of the first issues coming up on the table.”
The preposterous demand set out by the Brexit negotiator on Monday night comes as Parliament is set to debate the government’s bill to start the process of exiting the EU.
MPs are set to vote on Theresa May’s Brussels divorce plan on Wednesday after the Supreme Court earlier this month upheld last November’s ruling the PM cannot trigger Article 50 without a Parliamentary vote.
On Monday, Mrs May urged MPs to fall in line with the will of the people as she said it was the government’s job to put it into practice.
“The people of the United Kingdom voted on June 23 last year. They voted in a referendum that was given to them overwhelmingly by Parliament,” she said.
“The people spoke in that vote. The majority voted to leave the European Union. I think it is now the job of the Government to put that into practice.
“I hope that when people come to look at the Article 50 Bill they will recognise it is a very simple decision: do they support the will of the British people or not?”
During his Newsnight appearance Mr Verhofstadt, also insisted Mrs May would not be allowed to “pick and choose” those benefits of EU membership she might want the UK to retain once it leaves the bloc.
He said: “We need a fair partnership. You cannot create a status for countries outside the European Union where it is even more favourable than for the countries that are members.
“No taxpayer in Europe will accept such an outcome.
“Maybe some advantages of the European Union could be kept for those people in the UK who want to have them in the future and that is a generous offer, I think.”