‘We are not even halfway’: France’s Macron ramps up row over Brexit divorce bill after EU leaders take just 90 SECONDS to dismiss May’s plea for trade talks

  • Theresa May has been in Brussels for a crucial EU summit amid the bitter deadlock in Brexit negotiations
  • The PM used the gathering to appeal directly to the leaders of member states to move on to trade talks
  • Fellow leaders took just 90 seconds to rebuff plea, although they will start discussions between themselves
  • Angela Merkel insisted she had ‘no doubt’ there would be a ‘good result’ from the bitter negotiations
  • Negotiations said to be in standoff over divorce bill demand that could total as much as 100billion euros 

Emmanuel Macron threw cold water on hopes of a Brexit breakthrough today – warning that the UK’s divorce bill offer was not even ‘halfway’ to what the EU wanted.

The French president delivered a grim assessment of the standoff, saying Theresa May would have to make more significant concessions for trade negotiations to be able to start in December.

The hard line came after a summit of EU leaders took just 90 seconds to rebuff a plea from the Prime Minister for faster progress. But the tone contrasted sharply with efforts by other premiers including Angela Merkel to take a more conciliatory approach.

EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said he ‘hated’ the idea of no-deal Brexit, as Brussels tried to tempt Mrs May into compromising with hints at a breakthrough. European council president Donald Tusk claimed the extent of deadlock in negotiations was ‘exaggerated’, pointing out that the 27 states were now starting to discuss the shape of future relations between themselves.

At her own press conference wrapping up the summit, Mrs May admitted Brexit talks have ‘some way to go’. And despite warning counterparts over dinner last night not to push her too far, she risked the wrath of Brexiteers by suggesting she is willing to increase her previous £20billion offer to Brussels in return for a two-year transition.

She made clear that was not the ‘last word’ on the money issue – and dodged questions from journalists about whether the final bill could be in the order of 60billion euros.

Mrs May is believed to have privately fleshed out to other premiers what the UK might by willing to offer, but they want to secure more concrete commitments.

The French president delivered a grim assessment of the standoff today, saying Theresa May would have to make more significant concessions for trade negotiations to be able to start in December

At one point before her bilateral meeting with Mr Tusk this morning the PM was left sitting all by herself - summing up her status at the summit despite attempts by other leaders to show warmth

Brussels is trying to tempt the Prime Minister into fresh concessions on the divorce bill with hints at a breakthrough in DecemberEU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker insisted he was committed to reaching a 'fair' compromiseBrussels tried to tempt the Prime Minister into fresh concessions on the divorce bill with hints at a breakthrough in December
EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker insisted he was committed to reaching a ‘fair’ compromise, as Brussels tried to tempt Mrs May into fresh concessions on the divorce bill with hints at a breakthrough in December

The Prime Minister tried to put a positive gloss on the EU's refusal to start trade talks, saying the tone of the talks is 'constructive' and she was 'optimistic' about a good outcome

Mrs May has been trying to enlist Mr Juncker's support to unblock talks The PM put a friendly hand on the back of EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker during the talks this morning
The PM put a friendly hand on the back of EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker during the talks this morning

European Council president Donald Tusk confirmed this morning that the EU had agreed there had not been ‘sufficient progress’ to move on to the second phase of negotiations, which will cover trade.

But in a concession designed to bolster Mrs May, Mr Tusk said the EU would start laying the ground for those discussions. ‘Leaders green-light internal EU27 preparations for 2nd phase,’ Mr Tusk wrote.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also tried to strike a positive tone earlier. She said: ‘If we are all clear in our minds, I have absolutely no doubt that we can reach a good result.’

Mrs May told journalists as the summit wrapped up: ‘I am ambitious and positive for Britain’s future and for these negotiations.

‘But I know we still have some way to go. Both sides have approached these talks with professionalism and a constructive spirit and we should recognise what has been achieved to date.’

The PM also reiterated her warning that she has to be able to sell the divorce bill to the UK public – saying all EU leaders must be able to ‘stand by’ an agreement.

‘I believe it’s in the interests of the UK that the EU 27 continue to take a united approach,’ she said.

‘But if we are going to take a step forward together it must be on the basis of joint endeavour – we must get to an outcome that we can stand behind and works for all our people.’



Wrangling over cash is the stickiest problem and have held up trade talks.

The EU is demanding 60 billion euros – the equivalent of £54billion.

Theresa May agreed to pay 20 billion euros (£18billion) for the current EU budget in return for a transition deal.

The PM said Britain is prepared to meet its ‘obligations’ but what precisely these are is a matter of dispute.

EU Citizens rights:

Theresa May has tried to settle the issue to provide certainty to the 3.2 million EU nationals living in the UK and the 1.2million Brits living on the bloc, but the EU has refused.

The British think the EU are stalling on an agreement to squeeze more money.

This week the PM wrote an open letter to EU nationals reassuring them that a deal is ‘within touching distance’.

Northern Ireland:

The EU and UK do not want to see a return to a hard Irish border fearing it would endanger the peace process.

But the UK says the practicalities on how to maintain a soft border when the UK leaves the customs union means the issue can only be settled if they move on to trade talks.

Transition deal:

The PM wants a two-year transition deal and conceded EU judges will have power over the UK during this time.

But Europe wants more clarity on whether she will accept all parts of EU law and regulation.

Pressed on whether the divorce bill could end up being 60billion euros, the figure that has been circulating in Brussels, Mrs May stressed nothing would be finalised until the end of talks.

She said: ‘I have been very clear where we are in relation to the financial settlement.

‘I’ve set out how in relation to the current Budget plan and we’ll go through that line by line in relation to the commitments we have in our membership.

‘If there are particular groups or programmes that we continue to want to be member of we will continue to pay.’

In an apparent olive branch at a joint press conference with Mr Juncker, Mr Tusk said: ‘My impression is that reports of the deadlock between the European Union and the UK have been exaggerated, and while progress has not been sufficient, it does not mean there is no progress at all.

Mr Juncker added: ‘Our working assumption is not the no deal scenario, I hate the no deal scenario.

‘I want to have a fair deal with Britain.’

Earlier Mrs Merkel made clear that ‘both sides have to move.’ In a reference to a recent spat between the UK and the EU commission, she said: ‘I do not only see the ball with Great Britain. I do see it with Great Britain, but at the same time I also see the ball with us.’

Mrs May was pictured patting EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on the back at a breakfast meeting today as she continued her charm offensive.

UK officials have said they want EU leaders had to understand the ‘difficult political backdrop’ the PM faces at home.

Mrs Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron tried to shore up Mrs May’s position earlier yesterday, greeting her on arrival at the Brussels summit where they chatted animatedly with her for the cameras.

Mrs Merkel, whose government has started drawing up secret plans for a trade deal with the UK, struck an upbeat note, saying there were ‘encouraging’ signs that the negotiations would be ready to move on to trade by December.

In another positive sign for Mrs May, it emerged that Sweden is drawing up plans for a future trade relationship with the UK.

But other EU leaders continued to press the PM for more ‘detail’ on how much the UK is willing to hand over in a divorce settlement.

Some in the EU are calling for the UK to pay as much as £90 billion and none are satisfied with the current £20billion offer.

Mrs May has said Britain will meet ‘commitments’ made during its period of membership and privately indicated that she is willing to increase the offer on the table.

But, with public opinion resistant to handing over a large cheque, she is reluctant to name a significantly higher sum or agree to their demand to set it out in writing.

The EU leaders gathered for a breakfast discussion, before Mrs May left the session and the Brexit process was considered

Mr Macron struck a significantly harder tone on Brexit than his fellow leaders, who appeared optimistic about a deal

Mr Macron told a press conference wrapping up the summit today that the divorce bill offer was not even 'halfway' towards being enough

Mr Macron and Mrs Merkel appear to have developed a close working rapport since he became president

Theresa May was seen deep in conversation with Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at a breakfast session on the second day of the EU summit   

Mr Macron said EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had told the EU27 that the UK ‘still had to make a substantial financial effort’.

Mr Macron said: ‘We are far from where we should be in this respect.


Theresa May has been engaged in a frantic diplomatic offensive, and it is unlikely to stop now as she will want to build on momentum from the summit.

The next formal round of Brexit talks between David Davis and Michel Barnier is not due to begin until early November.

But in the interim the UK will be considering how much further to go in making concrete commitments to a divorce bill.

There will also be finishing touches to put to the outline agreement on citizens’ rights, which is thought to be within touching distance of completion.

Meanwhile, the EU is starting to draw up its positions on the basis that trade talks will start at some point.

The moment of truth for the Brexit process is likely to come at the next EU summit in December, when leaders will again be asked whether they want to begin talking about trade to the UK.

If they refuse a second time the alarm bells will start ringing and preparations for a no-deal departure will start in earnest.

‘If, as Prime Minister May said in Florence, we want to make sure that no-one will have to pay more or receive less, and if we want to make sure the UK will comply with all its commitments made as a member of the EU … I would say we are far from having reached the necessary financial commitments before we can open phase two.

‘We are not halfway there.’

The French premier also branded calls from some in the UK for a no deal Brexit ‘bluffing’.

Earlier, Mrs May urged leaders to seize the offer she made last month in her Florence speech to honour Britain’s financial commitments to the EU as part of a two-year transitional deal.

She said she had made the offer after recognising that the Brexit talks had stalled in the summer.

Mrs May told them she had ‘recognised the difficulty the process was in,’ adding: ‘I took stock, listened to what people in the UK were saying and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying and I made a step forward.’

She insisted the speech had kick-started talks, but added: ‘We must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people.’

The PM urged fellow leaders to be ‘optimistic and ambitious about what we can achieve, because we share the same set of beliefs’.

And she confirmed that the UK remained ‘unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security’.

EU leaders will formally decide this morning whether ‘sufficient progress’ has been made in divorce talks to move on to trade.

British officials have admitted there is no prospect of an immediate breakthrough, but are hoping the EU will set out a path to begin trade talks by the end of the year.

However, EU leaders are continuing to stress the need for Britain to pay more.

Donald Tusk and Mrs Merkel both went out of their way to be optimistic about the direction of the Brexit discussions

Mr Juncker talks with Mrs Merkel in Brussels today. In the background is the commission president's powerful chief of staff, Martin Selmayr

Mrs Merkel arrives for the second day of the summit in Brussels, when EU leaders are expected formally to declare there has not been enough progress to start Brexit trade talks

Theresa May held bilateral talks with European Council president Donald Tusk today as she battles to find a way through the Brexit impasse

UK officials have said they want EU leaders had to understand the 'difficult political backdrop' the PM faces at home

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, seen as one of the UK’s closest allies, said: ‘Theresa May has to come up with more clarity on what she meant by ‘other commitments’ in her Florence speech.

‘I phoned her last week and tried to encourage her to do that but so far she hasn’t.’

The demand was echoed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who said that putting an end to the stalemate will ‘require more concessions from the UK government’.

He added: ‘We’re quite far back far from the cliff edge at this stage but it is incumbent on all European leaders that we don’t sleepwalk towards it.

Mrs May was accompanied by the UK's representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow (left) as she roamed the summit today 

Mrs May, pictured flanked by chief aide Gavin Barwell (left) and ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, is attending the second day of the summit in Brussels

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni was seen chatting to Mrs Merkel at the summit today     Mrs May appeared to be suffering an unfortunate recurrence of her cough during her press conference
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni was seen chatting to Mrs Merkel at the summit today. Mrs May appeared to be suffering an unfortunate recurrence of her cough during her press conference


 Philippe Lamberts MEP branded Boris Johnson a 'loony' who is blackmailing Theresa May 

 Philippe Lamberts MEP branded Boris Johnson a ‘loony’ who is blackmailing Theresa May

A Belgian MEP today branded Boris Johnson is a ‘loony’ who is blackmailing Theresa May over Brexit.

Philippe Lamberts risked sparking outrage by mocking the Foreign Secretary’s chances of ever making tit to No10.

And he warned the PM it is not the job of Brussels to save her political ‘skin’ as he demanded more cash for the divorce bill.

Appearing on Sky News All Out Politics, the MEP – who sits on the Brexit steering committee – said: ‘Frankly speaking, I would not bet much money on Boris Johnson ever becoming British Prime Minister. That’s my view.

‘I hope that you have enough responsible people in British politics, including in the Tory Party, to get to a sensible attitude.

‘That’s a problem. How does she accept to be blackmailed by, excuse me, loonies who are part of the Tory Party.’

Challenged over why the bloc is not giving Mrs May more support, he added: ‘It’s not the job of the EU 27 to save the skin of any British politician, and vice versa.’

Theresa May last night reiterated a pledge to pay around £18billion into the EU budget over the next two years as part of an eventual Brexit bill.

But EU officials and leaders are adamant that the UK must further spell out how much of the bloc’s debts she is willing to pay off.

Britain is said to be fighting calls to pay 11billion euros towards pensions for EU officials, saying the true figure should be more like 3.5billion.

The Prime Minister is understood to have outlined in more detail the eventual shape of the bill in private conversations with EU leaders such as President Macron and Mrs Merkel.

But figures close to negotiations said talks on trade will only be opened once the UK puts an offer ‘on Barnier’s table’, a reference to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Outgoing Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern described the lack of breakthroughs as a ‘big disappointment’ yesterday.

‘We have to speed up of course because this is definitely detrimental to the European economy. There are so many open issues and we have to come to solutions.’

Juha Sipila, the Finnish Prime Minister, said: ‘We are a little bit frustrated about the progress but hopefully we can be in that position in December.

Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite also took aim at the Prime Minister, adding: ‘Mrs May needs to be persuade herself to be more realistic’ – is she? ‘Not yet.’

She also made reference to the how the venue for yesterday’s meeting was changed due to the presence of toxic kitchen fumes.

Writing on Twitter, she said: ‘Lessons from European Council kitchen: fuming over Brexit must not become toxic.’

The slow progress has fuelled fears that May’s government could collapse, or worse that Britain may fail to strike a withdrawal agreement before its formal departure on March 29, 2019, which could cause economic and transport chaos of both sides of the Channel.

The former head of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency, John Sawers, warned yesterday that Britain could be left ‘poorer and weaker’ by Brexit and needing to spend more to maintain influence abroad.

Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein meanwhile took to Twitter to say he would be ‘spending a lot more time’ in Frankfurt, just stopping short of naming the German city as a post-Brexit headquarters.

May is under pressure from senior Brexiteers at home, and a group urged her in a letter on Thursday to walk out of the talks if the EU does not agree to move on to trade.

As Mrs May got down to work at the EU headquarters yesterday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also in Brussels holding his own talks over Brexit.

In the early hours of this morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled the EU is ready to compromise after the PM used a summit dinner to warn she must be able to 'defend' a divorce bill to the British public

Theresa May seemed upbeat as she left the EU Summit in Brussels last night after delivering her plea over dinner

The three leaders  had a chat at the EU summit in Brussels yesterday ahead of Theresa May's address to her fellow European leaders

Germany is playing hardball in public, insisting it is not interested in a trade deal unless the UK offers written guarantees it will make a ‘divorce payment’.

Michael Fuchs, vice-chair of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, said yesterday that he believed the figure should be between 60billion and 100billion euros.

‘I cannot give you the real figure, the final figure, but there is a figure between 100billion and maybe 60billion, something in between these two numbers should be the right point,’ he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

‘This is what the negotiators have to do at the moment, and I hope that David Davis is coming up with a decent proposal, because 20 billion is definitely not enough.’

But a draft paper by the German foreign ministry suggests Berlin is privately anxious to secure a ‘comprehensive’ trade deal with one of its largest trading partners.

The president of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani, ramped up the rhetoric this week by accusing Mrs May of being ‘unrealistic’ and said Britain should be forced to pump around 60billion euros into the bloc’s coffers.

Money has emerged as the key issue in the first phase, with the EU refusing to discuss trade until the outline of the financial settlement is agreed.

Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier has sought to up the pressure by repeatedly pointing out that the ‘clock is ticking’ before the formal Brexit date in March 2019.

But Brexit Secretary David Davis has said the two sides have little left to discuss in the first phase, with a deal within ‘touching distance’ on citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland border intractable until the shape of a future trade relationship is clearer.

The expected failure to agree ‘sufficient progress’ has been made to start trade talks means the issue will not be revisited until the next EU summit in December.

However, ministers are still confident of achieving movement by Christmas.

David Davis is preparing to present an ‘upbeat’ assessment of a No Deal Brexit to the Cabinet

David Davis is preparing to present an ‘upbeat’ assessment of a No Deal Brexit to the Cabinet, it was reported.

In a change in negotiating tactics, the Brexit Secretary was last night said to have ordered his officials to plan for a failure to get a trade deal.

He is said to be planning to present this scenario to his colleagues on Halloween. The move is expected to alarm his pro-Remain colleagues, according to The Times.

David Davis is preparing to present an ¿upbeat¿ assessment of a No Deal Brexit to the Cabinet, it was reported last night

Mr Davis also said that EU citizens would be allowed to bring non-EU spouses into the UK, even if they do not meet the income requirements that British citizens have to. So far Theresa May has failed to talk up how Britain would fare without a deal.

Preferring the option of a trade agreement, it is the first time Mrs May has allowed David Davis to make such a presentation.

Owen Paterson, a former cabinet minister, said a no-deal situation was ‘inevitable at the moment’, but stressed that the UK should not be ‘terrified’ of this outcome. Referring to trading on World Trade Organisation terms, he said: ‘It is an ineluctable certainty we are going to end up with WTO at the end of this anyway.’


Damian Green today slapped down Brexiteers calling for the PM to walk away from Brexit talks if the EU do not move on to trade discussions.

The Prime Minister’s deputy there are no plans for Theresa May to leave the negotiating table, despite the curent impasse.

The Cabinet minister said it is in Britain and the EU’s best interests to get a deal and he is confident one will be struck.

Mrs May has travelled to Brussels to address a crunch summit where she will appeal directly to the heads of member states to move on to trade talks.

In an open letter published today Brexiteers including Tory former chancellor Lord Lawson urged Mrs May to abandon the negotiations if there is no progress towards a deal.

First Secretary of State Damian Green, pictured earlier this week with Brexit Secretary David Davis, said Theresa May does not plan to walk away from talks in the EU  and said he is confident a good deal will be struck

But asked if there is a chance the PM will ‘walk away’, Mr Green said: ‘No.’

He added: ‘David Davis said in the House yesterday that he intends to continue with the talks.

‘I think the Florence speech has led to an improvement in the atmosphere of the talks.

‘They are gong to be tough they are going to be long – it’s a European negotiation you would expect both of those things.

‘But we would expect to have a successful conclusion at the end.’

Mr Green, who campaigned to stay in the EU during the referendum campaign, said he would not change his mind if the contest was rerun.

Speaking to reporters at the press gallery lunch in the Commons, he said: ‘I’ve said that I haven’t changed my views about anything said during the referendum campaign.

‘But there are two main points – one is that there is not going to be another referendum, and second that it’s my duty to try to help get the best deal for Britain.’

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