There will be howls of outrage in some quarters if it is confirmed that the government has offered the EU a ‘divorce’ bill of up to £50 billion (over several years). Some on the leave side of the debate insist that the bill should be zero. They ask: does the EU not owe us some money for our share of all the bridges we have helped build in Spain and railway lines in Poland? But it was never realistic to think we could leave the EU and maintain good relations with the bloc without paying a penny — even if a House of Lords report did seem to suggest that this would be legally possible. We are in the process of creating a new relationship with the EU, not ending it altogether.
Having agreed an EU budget which stretched until 2020, it was right to fund these programmes until the end of that period — which, after all, is only a year after our departure. Thereafter there will be ongoing pension obligations, but a fraction of what we would otherwise be on the hook for.
The government’s offer is a mark of serious intent, proof that we want constructive and co-operative relations as we start to discuss the terms of a free-trade deal. The money, payable over many years, is still a saving when compared to the ever-rising sums which we would be required to pay had we decided to remain in the bloc.
Brexit was never just about cash: indeed, most people who voted to leave were prepared for a costly, painful process. They also thought it would be worthwhile. By the time we leave we will have regained our freedom to make our own trade deals with outside countries.