Manfred Weber: We need clear and concrete commitments in Brexit negotiations

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Britain must spell out to the EU which financial obligations it is prepared to honour if the second phase of the Brexit negotiations are to get the green light, a key ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.

Following talks in Downing Street with Theresa May, the senior German MEP Manfred Weber said he was “more optimistic” about the prospects for a deal.

However he said there needed to be more progress on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal if EU leaders were to give the go ahead for the second phase of talks – including a free trade deal and transitional arrangement – at their December summit in Brussels.

While he said the UK did not have to put a figure on the so-called “divorce bill”, it needed to make clear which of its outstanding financial obligations to the EU it was prepared to accept.

Mr Weber, who heads the European Parliament’s centre-right grouping, told reporters: “When somebody is leaving the club then such a person or such a member state has to pay the open bill.

“For the so-called sufficient progress question for the December council, the most important thing is not the figure. The most important thing is to clarify the commitments – the areas where Great Britain has to see its commitments.”

Mr Weber later told a news conference that there was a need for “innovative new ideas” as well as better channels of communication between London and Brussels.

“I am more optimistic. There is progress and a will to see progress,” he added.

“The atmosphere is positive but we need clear and concrete commitments to step into the second phase. For now the green light is not there.”

Downing Street described the meeting as “constructive” and said Mrs May had made clear the UK was seeking an “ambitious partnership” which did not “follow the existing models”.

The meeting took place as MPs continued to debate the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons amid a row over the Daily Telegraph’s labelling of 15 Tory critics of the key legislation “the Brexit mutineers”.

Former minister Anna Soubry said her office had reported at least five threatening tweets to the police after being pictured on the front page of the newspaper.

The row broke out after Tory rebels warned the PM she will face a revolt over moves to enshrine the date of Brexit in law.

Theresa May during PMQs
Theresa May during PMQs (PA)

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May said the Government was listening to the contributions being made in the debate and “listening carefully to those who wish to improve the Bill”.

She added: “I hope that we can all come together to deliver on the decision that the country took that we should leave the European Union.”

On Tuesday, former attorney general and prominent rebel Dominic Grieve told MPs that no amount of “arm twisting” would make him vote for the amendment, which sets the UK’s departure from the EU at 11pm on March 29, 2019.

That amendment will not be voted on until next month at the earliest, and the Government has so far survived the early skirmishes in the battle to get the so-called repeal Bill through the Commons.

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