The European Commission has dismissed a demand by senior Tories to rewrite the Brexit withdrawal agreement to reduce the amount of cash Britain has to pay the EU.
Brexiteers including Iain Duncan Smith have claimed that the financial liabilities signed up to by Boris Johnson in the agreement were too great, that the treaty “costs too much” and “denies us true national independence”.
But speaking to reporters on Tuesday a European Commission spokesperson said the agreement’s financial section included “completely normal legal commitments”.
Sir Iain’s concerns relate to the UK’s continued liability for European Investment Bank loans, which he claims will mean the financial impact will go far beyond the main settlements in the £39 billion divorce deal.
“I think it’s very clear that we are not going to get into a debate with British politicians on liabilities or any other of the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the Commission spokesperson said.
“The Withdrawal Agreement is there, it is now a firm document that has been accepted by both parties and it is the basis on which both sides are acting.
“In this document it is clear that that the United Kingdom has taken a certain number of completely normal legal commitments when it comes to its share of liabilities related to loans that would have been given by the EIB whilst the UK was still a member of the European Union.”
He added: “What we can say is that the Withdrawal Agreement stands, that in it the United Kingdom has taken a certain number of perfectly reasonable commitments related to the time when it was still a member of the European Union relating to its share of liabilities on loans given out by the EIB, and we have nothing further to comment on this.”
The scale of the financial implications are expected to depend on the levels of defaults on loans made available through the European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Financial Stability Mechanism, which the UK has contributed to in the past.
Sir Iain claimed that the EU “want our money and they want to stop us being a competitor” and that the Withdrawal Agreement “sadly helps them”. He added that the provisions mean Britain would be “hooked into the EU’s loan book”.
Mr Duncan Smith voted in favour of the agreement he is criticising when it was put before parliament.
With trade talks currently showing little progress, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator with the UK, on Tuesday also stepped up his calls for EU countries and businesses to prepare for the end of the transition period.
“Changes are inevitable, with or without agreement on the new partnership,” Mr Barnier said. “Companies and citizens must get ready.”
The UK, for its part, on Monday told medicine suppliers that they must rebuild stockpiles for a possible no-deal Brexit at the year, which is expected to disrupt supply lines. Companies had previously warned this might be impossible because of the pressures of the pandemic.
Major sticking points in continuing talks include regulatory alignment, fisheries, justice and police cooperation, and the governance of any deal. The next official round is due to take place in Brussels on 17 August.
After the most recent round of talks Mr Barnier said a trade deal was looking “unlikely”, but was still possible of the UK shifted its positions.