BRUSSELS (AFP) - The British government will face a multibillion-euro divorce settlement with the European Union even if it leaves the bloc without a deal, Brussels negotiator Michel Barnier warned on Wednesday (Jan 23).
Some anti-Europeans, opposed to a negotiated settlement with Brussels, baulk at the idea of settling a bill that their own government estimates at £39 billion (S$69 billion) to cover outstanding obligations.
But Mr Barnier, in interviews with several European newspapers, said the bill would still be settled at some point, even if London rejects the withdrawal agreement Britain signed in November and crashes out on March 29.
"For the EU budget, we've always said one simple thing: the totality of the commitments made by the United Kingdom while still an EU member will be respected," the senior EU official said, according to Le Monde.
"It will be more difficult to make them respect them in the case of a 'no deal', but we will continue to insist: These commitments are legally binding under international law and I cannot imagine that Britain would not respect its commitments."
Prime Minister Theresa May's government does not dispute that Britain owes budget contributions to cover EU spending agreed between members while Britain remained in the bloc, and approved November's divorce deal.
But the British Parliament - divided between deal supporters, eurosceptics who want a 'no-deal' departure and pro-Europeans seeking to halt Brexit - rejected that accord and threw the process into limbo.
And some hardliners in London want to withhold the payment as leverage ahead of post-Brexit talks to agree a new trading relationship between Britain and the remaining 27 EU member states.
Separately in the interview, given to French daily Le Monde, the Luxemburger Wort and Poland's Rzeczpospolita, Mr Barnier restated the consensus EU position that the withdrawal deal must stand and that it is up to Mrs May's government to find a way to save it.
But he suggested that Brussels would be flexible and modify the political declaration on hopes for future ties that was agreed alongside the binding withdrawal deal, if Britain were to compromise on Mrs May's positions.
"Things could start moving rapidly. This depends on the future relationship, like I already said. We are ready to be more ambitious if the British decide to shift their red lines, for example by remaining in a customs union, or participating in the single market," he said, according to the Luxemburger Wort.
"I believe there is a readiness in London for that."