UK Finance Minister Philip Hammond acknowledged on Sunday that there are differences in the government over Brexit, stressing however that London will pay the debts it owes Europe after it leaves the European Union.
He confirmed that Britain’s financial settlement would be top of the agenda when the Brexit negotiations, which started last month, resume in Brussels on Monday.
“We’re not a country that walks away from its debts.”
“We are a country that always honors its obligations. If there is any amount that is due when it’s been properly quantified and audited, of course we’ll deal with it,” he told the BBC.
Hammond brushed off remarks by foreign minister Boris Johnson that the EU could “go whistle” for its money, saying this was a direct reference to claims that Britain may be asked to pay up to 100 billion euros ($112 billion).
He described this figure, confirmed to AFP by EU officials but never publicly announced, as “ridiculous”.
He also said the cabinet was coming closer to an agreement on the need for some kind of transitional arrangement when Britain leaves the EU, which could last a “couple of years”.
But he acknowledged that ministers were divided on other elements of Brexit, after the weekend newspapers were filled with reports of in-fighting — including potentially damaging briefings against him over public sector pay.
“Some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda which I, over the last few weeks, have tried to advance of ensuring that we achieve a Brexit which is focused on protecting our economy,” he said.
Since the June 8 election, when the ruling Conservatives lost their majority in parliament, Hammond has been increasingly outspoken about the need to retain economic ties with the EU.
Before the vote, Prime Minister Theresa May had made clear that her priority was cutting immigration, a major issue in last year’s referendum vote to quit the bloc.
But May has struggled to assert her authority since the election, and weeks of media briefings suggest rivals are positioning themselves to replace her.
Hammond insisted he was not part of this.
“I think on many fronts it would be helpful if my colleagues — all of us — focused on the job in hand. This government is facing a ticking clock over the Brexit negotiations,” he said.