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Boris Johnson threatens to withhold £39 billion EU divorce bill ‘until we have clarity’

The Tory leadership frontrunner says he could refuse to pay the bill honouring the UK’s existing spending commitments within the EU

In brief

  • Boris Johnson threatened to withhold payments to the EU
  • The candidate says there is a ‘very small possibility’ of no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson has threatened to withhold the £39 billion Brexit divorce bill if no EU exit deal can be agreed.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, the Conservative leadership hopeful said that he was prepared to go back on an agreement to pay a divorce bill honouring the country’s existing spending commitments within the EU.

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Money retained

Mr Jonson told the newspaper: “I think our friends and partners need to understand that the money is going to be retained until such time as we have greater clarity about the way forward.

“I always thought it was extraordinary that we should agree to write that entire cheque before having a final deal.

“In getting a good deal, money is a great solvent and a great lubricant.”

Mr Johnson, who is leading the pack in MPs’ endorsements, added that he feels “a real sense of personal responsibility” for delivering Brexit due to his role in the 2016 referendum.

He said: “I have a deep sense of frustration at the way the most important project in our lifetimes has been going.”

Re-open negotiations

The Tory leadership hopeful also vowed to tear up Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement and re-open negotiations with the EU.

He said: “We will have in the UK a new administration with a new mandate.

“We will have a different attitude in the negotiating team and a different negotiating team.

“I will be giving personal direction to the negotiations but we will also have a very strong and ministerially led negotiating team.”

The candidate’s plan to re-open negotiations comes contrary to a warning from EU chief negotiator Michael Barnier.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Barnier warned that the existing withdrawal deal is “the only one possible,” adding: “A new prime minister will not change the problem.

“The problem is there and the new prime minister will have the responsibility with us to solve this problem.

“We are ready to engage with [the new prime minister] and his team. We are ready to work once again for an orderly Brexit.”

However, Mr Johnson says that he is prepared to leave without a deal if a new agreement cannot be reached by 31 October.

He said: “My duty will be to get our country ready for the very, very small possibility of coming out without a deal on WTO terms.

“It is only by being ready to deliver it that you will get the deal that we need.”

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