Don’t follow the money, watch the border
The deal the British government is now prepared to do on its EU divorce bill could go as high as €45 billion (Financial Times), €50 billion (BBC) or €65 billion (Guardian). The confusion arises because the reports emerging from both Brussels and London suggest agreement is close on the gross amount, which has never been confirmed but is thought to be around €100 billion.
Everyone wants to run a headline with the net amount, so various commentators do their own back-of-an-envelope calculations on the offset money, sums that Britain is or will be owed from the EU and can be subtracted from the gross figure.
The important phrase in circulation is that Britain has “agreed to fully honour its financial commitments as identified by Brussels”. It suits nobody to be haggling in public about specific amounts, so we cannot expect hard figures any time soon. No deal has been done but it seems the path to a deal has been identified, and that is all the EU Task Force on Brexit ever asked for.
The problem now is that the whole political pressure of Brexit will fall upon our border. This will be a dangerous time, and all of us on this island will be exposed as no other member of the EU is. Right now our dilemma is at the very top of the EU agenda and it is correct to insist that the UK must propose how it intends to deal with this specific land border before we move on to general talks about the future EU-UK trading relationship. Otherwise, while we must put our faith in the solidarity of our friends in the EU26, there is a danger that when all their interests are put on the table, the great threat to our peace and prosperity could slip down the agenda.