“This is a battle between time and money,” was how one cabinet minister described the Brexit negotiations this week. To prevent time running out on exit negotiations that are going nowhere – and Britain leaving the European Union without a deal – Theresa May has finally put some money on the table.
Although she did not include a figure in her speech in Florence this afternoon, her promise to honour the UK’s budget commitments to the EU should head off the real possibility of the talks breaking down. While she used only one coded sentence in order to soften the impact on the domestic front, it was the language the EU wanted to hear.
It should be worth more than the reported €20bn (£18bn), which is only an opening offer. The UK will probably have to stump up at least twice as much to secure a deal. Ministers want to keep some money up their sleeves for when the negotiations reach a climax in a year’s time. Money is their strongest card, while (the lack of) time is on the EU’s side.
Apart from the divorce payment, May’s conciliatory tone towards the EU was not matched by much substance. She moved a little on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and dropped her previous threat to play the security card by ending cooperation with our neighbours.