Minister says EU being 'perfectly reasonable' in focusing on Brexit divorce bill

UK's Brexit Secretary has accused the EU of playing "time against money" during negotiations

Minister says EU being 'perfectly reasonable' in focusing on Brexit divorce bill

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney with UK Brexit Secretary David Davis. Picture by: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 12.55pm

The Foreign Affairs Minister says EU Brexit negotiators are right to deal with the matter of the UK's 'divorce bill' first in the ongoing Brexit talks.

It came as the UK's Brexit Secretary David Davis has accused the EU of playing "time against money" during negotiations as it tries to 'create pressure' on the UK to agree a divorce bill.

In an interview with On the Record on Newstalk, Minister Simon Coveney described Brexit as a catastrophic decision for the UK.

He argued: "People call it an exit bill, as if it's a fine for Britain for leaving. What the exit bill, as it's being referred to, actually is is financial commitments that Britain has already committed to.

"That's a perfectly reasonable request by the European Union, but it's a difficult thing politically for the British government to accept - that they need to contributes billions of euro to a union that they're leaving".

Mr Davis, meanwhile, said the European Union had made itself look "silly" by insisting that there had been no progress in the talks.

"They've set this up to try and create pressure on us on money, that's what this is about. They're trying to play time against money," Mr Davis told the BBC's Andrew Marr show.

Comparing the EU's demands to a hotel bill presented to a guest on checking out, Mr Davis said: "We are going through it line by line and they are finding it difficult because we have got good lawyers."

The so-called "Brexit bill" has emerged as a major stumbling block in the talks on Britain's split from the European Union.

The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, said at the end of the third round of talks in Brussels that there had been "no decisive progress" on key issues.

But Mr Davis said: "Bluntly, I think it looked a bit silly, because there plainly were things that we've achieved."

"The Commission puts itself in a silly position if it says nothing has been done," he added, stressing he was not branding Mr Barnier personally "silly".

File photo of David Davis. Picture by: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

The comments came as Theresa May sought to prevent a Conservative rebellion ahead of the first Commons votes on the Brexit legislation.

The first British parliamentary debate on the so-called Repeal Bill, which ensures EU law will no longer apply in the UK, takes place on Thursday, and Prime Minister Theresa May has warned would-be rebels in her party not to water down the legislation.

Mr Davis, saying the legislation "is about ensuring continuity" and urged Remainers and Leavers alike to support it.

He did not put a figure on the Brexit bill, but said a report in the Sunday Times that Mrs May had secretly agreed a £50bn (€54bn) figure was "nonsense" and "completely wrong".

The Brexit secretary said it was likely Britain would continue to pay some money into the EU budget after Brexit, but that the sums would not be large over the medium to long term.

While there was "no enforceable" legal basis for the UK to pay money to Brussels, Mr Davis said that "we are a country that meets its international obligations - but they have got to be there".

Those obligations "may not be legal ones, they may be moral ones or political ones", he said.