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Britain must agree to meet all outstanding financial liabilities from four decades of EU membership before any talks a post-Brexit trade deal with the bloc, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has said.

After reports in the FT the UK’s gross bill for exiting the union could be as much as €100bn, Michel Barnier told a Brussels press conference: “There is no punishment. There is no Brexit bill. The financial settlement is only about settling the accounts.”

Unveiling the Commission’s negotiating mandate (which you can read in full here), he said the talks would be both painful and lengthy.

He warned of “explosive” political consequences if EU programmes had to be stopped because Britain did not meet its liabilities, but he declined to provide an estimate for the settlement that would be required. “We decided these programmes together, we benefited from them together and we benefit together, that money is committed.”

He said the UK “must put a great deal of effort in the next weeks and months” to resolving the three issues the Commission wants resolved in the first phase of talks – namely citizens’ rights, a financial settlement and new external borders.

But he warned:

Some have created the illusion that Brexit will have no material impact on our lives or that negotiations can be concluded quickly and painlessly. This is not the case. We need sound solutions, legal precision and this will take time.

Mr Barnier made clear the European Court of Justice would rule on areas of dispute such as the financial settlement. He unveiled a hardline opening position for the Brexit talks that calls for rights of EU citizens now living the UK — and EU citizens who will start living in the UK before Brexit — to be guaranteed for life.

Whenever EU law is involved on citizens and financial settlement we will have to go and depend on the court of justice of the European Union. Otherwise the rights defined by the agreement for citizens are just an illusion, a promise.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU had “caused 10 months of uncertainty” he said and “the clock is ticking”.

Photo: EPA

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