Exclusive: Business and backbenchers will support Prime Minister Theresa May on divorce bill offer to speed Brexit talks

Catherine Neilan
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It is widely expected she will confront the matter of the Brexit divorce bill on Friday (Source: Getty)

Theresa May will be backed by backbenchers and business if she broaches the issue of the Brexit divorce bill in a significant speech later this week.

The Prime Minister, who is currently in Canada trying to secure a pre-Brexit agreement on future trading, will be in Florence later on Friday to deliver a critical intervention aimed at the leaders of the EU27.

So far, Downing Street has been tight-lipped on what it will contain, beyond confirming May will “set out further policy”. However it is widely expected that she will finally confront the issue of the divorce bill, which so far has blocked negotiators from discussing transition and post-Brexit trade.

Senior Conservative MPs told City A.M. that there was increased appetite among the backbenches for a financial commitment to be made.

One former Leave supporter said £40bn was a "sensible" figure to contribute, as long as a transition period of two-to-three years, and a "decent" trading deal, was granted.

"None of my colleagues would vote against leaving the EU on the basis of that figure," one MP said.

Putting forward a concrete sum would be "broadly in the spirit of cooperation - as long as it is reciprocated", he added.

Another said although he would warn against putting an actual figure on the table "if the deal is sensible, £40bn sounds like a figure that could be 'sold' to the British electorate".

Catherine McGuinness, policy chairman at the City of London Corporation said it was essential May’s update enabled transition to be agreed “now”. It follows a letter, written by the CBI and signed by more than 100 businesses, urging both sides of the debate to do the same.

She added: “The Brexit bill has potential to be a sticking point for both the UK and the EU. As a sector we agree it’s a reasonable ask that we pay our dues.

“Our long-term relationship with the EU must continue to thrive long after Brexit. Making positive progress on the final exit bill should help set the tone for negotiations as they continue over the coming months.”

May is still dealing with the fallout from an article written by Boris Johnson, which appeared without Downing Street approval this weekend and has been seen by some as undermining her authority at a critical juncture.

While on the flight to Canada May dismissed the foreign secretary’s actions by saying “Boris is Boris” and insisting that government is “driven from the front” - a clear reference to Amber Rudd's jibe that Johnson was "back-seat driving".

In a move that will strengthen her position at the negotiating table, the senior civil servant at the heart of negotiations Oliver Robbins has moved from the Department of Exiting the EU (DexEU) to take up a new role as EU adviser in the Cabinet office.

Robbins will now report directly to Downing Street while simultaneously leading the UK’s team of officials during talks with the bloc.

An official spokesperson said the move came about "in order to strengthen cross government co-ordination of the next phase of negotiations with the EU."

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