Skip to main content

EU Budget: UK Contribution

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 1 December 2016

2. What assessment his Department has made of the likelihood of the UK having to contribute to the EU budget after the UK has left the EU. (907590)

Withdrawing from the EU means decisions on how we spend taxpayers’ money will be made in the United Kingdom. We will strike a deal in the best interests of United Kingdom taxpayers. It is the job of my Department to bring back control over issues such as money, law and borders. As we do so, it will be up to this House and this Government to make the decisions.

I do not expect the Secretary of State to reveal his negotiating position today, but will he accept that on 23 June the British people voted to restore control over the money that we have paid to the European Union? They want that money spent in the United Kingdom, not subsidising Brussels.

I understand entirely where my hon. Friend is coming from. Indeed, as he well knows, I have a great deal of sympathy with that viewpoint. Of course we intend to respect the decision of the British people and what underpins it. As he rightly says, it would be irresponsible to set out red lines or to make unilateral decisions at this stage, but it must be made clear that we want decisions over how taxpayers’ money is spent to be made in this House.

This is a general question, so it provides the Minister with plenty of scope to give some sort of response. Will the Government consider making any contribution in any shape or form for access to the single market?

I note that the first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question was probably aimed more at you, Mr Speaker, than at me. The simple answer we have given previously—it is very important, because there is a distinction between picking off an individual policy and setting out a major criterion—is that the major criterion here—[Interruption.] I will answer him if he lets me do so. The major criterion is that we get the best possible access for goods and services to the European market. If that is included in what he is talking about, then of course we would consider it.

One of the decisions that I suppose the Government have to make is when we will stop paying money to the European Union, or whether we then ask for it back. One way to negotiate could be to say, “Well, any money we’ve paid to the European Union after 23 June should come back to us.” Is that not one of the positions we could take?

I got into trouble once before for saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan”, which was royally misinterpreted in the press. However, my hon. Friend makes a significant point. This money is British money: it will come back to us, and we will decide what to do with it.

In a week in which it has been reported that the Foreign Secretary told EU ambassadors that he does not agree with the Government’s policy on free movement and that a Dutch Member of Parliament attended a Downing Street briefing on the Government’s Brexit plans, does the Secretary of State understand why the House is getting a little fed up with being told nothing? If he does, will he tell us when the Government will come forward with their plans for Brexit, including for what will happen regarding any future contributions to the European Union after we have left?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am appearing in front of his Committee on 14 December. His Committee has already visited my Department, and we are seeking to help it as much as we can. As a previous Secretary of State for International Development and Cabinet Minister, he also knows full well that the probable success of the negotiations greatly depends on our ability to manage information and to keep secret until the last minute what needs to be kept secret.

As for the other things from this week that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, they are all based on a presumption that a scribbled note in Downing Street is actually anything like Government policy. It is not.

EU Brexit negotiators have been clear about their intent to pursue the UK for an exit bill of anything up to €60 billion based on an expansive interpretation of our liabilities under the EU budget. That is a colossal sum of money and the British public deserve to know from their Government how accurate it is. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how much his Department estimates that it will cost to settle our outstanding liabilities as part of any future withdrawal agreement?

May I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman back? I understand that he has a new member of his family, on which the whole House will join me in congratulating him. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We have seen an opening bid from the European Union. That is what it is. It is nothing more than the maximum price for departure from the Union. If he will forgive me, I am not going to engage in chipping away at that bid; we will start from scratch when we go through the door after March when the negotiations start.