UK foreign secretary downplays EU payment suggestions

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2016 8:57 AM
UK foreign secretary downplays EU payment suggestions

LONDON (AP) — Britain's foreign secretary dismissed as "speculation" suggestions that the U.K. would pay for tariff-free trade with the European Union after it leaves the bloc.

Boris Johnson's comments Sunday in an interview with the BBC came after David Davis, the minister in charge of negotiating Britain's exit from the EU, said the government might be willing to pay for continued access to the market of 500 million people.

"That is obviously something that David Davis is considering," Johnson said. "It doesn't mean that a decision has been taken."

When pressed, he said Davis' suggestion was "speculation."

The comments reflect the battles within Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet as it struggles to carry out the will of the voters who decided June 23 to leave the EU. As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case seeking to force May to bring her plans to Parliament, a group of lawmakers from her Conservative Party warned that she risks alienating large numbers of voters if she pushes for a sharp break with the bloc.

The prime minister has insisted that revealing even the broad outlines of her plans for Britain's exit from the EU, known as Brexit, will jeopardize the country's negotiating position.

But pressure is building for May to be more transparent.

A group of Conservative lawmakers warned May in an article in The Observer newspaper that she risks alienating many supporters of her own party if she takes a hard line on issues such as immigration and trade by pursuing a "hard Brexit." That would leave the Conservatives looking too much like the UK Independence Party, which led the drive to leave the EU, and ignore the 48 percent of the population that voted to remain, they said.

The message from the group, which included former Attorney General Dominic Grieve and ex-ministers Alistair Burt and Claire Perry, came after a by-election in west London last week in which the Liberal Democrats edged out a once hugely popular Conservative candidate in a campaign fought over demands to avoid a sharp break with the EU.

"The Conservative Party needs to be alert that there is a moderate core of Conservative voters, who voted Remain, and who want to hear the Conservative government speaking above the noise of the Brexiters," they wrote. "They do not want the Conservative party to be UKIP-lite."

The lawmakers called on May to set out the broad outlines of her plan before triggering Article 50 of the EU treaty, which will start the formal process of negotiating Britain's exit from the bloc. This would clarify the prime minister's position and make it clear that the government is pursuing its own policies, they said.

"The vast majority of Conservative voters would unite behind that and the Prime Minister, trusting her to deliver the best Brexit possible," the group wrote.