EU chief brands May's €20bn Brexit offer as 'peanuts'

Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, has called for the UK to get ‘realistic’ (Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP)

The UK’s €20bn Brexit divorce bill offer is “peanuts”, the president of the European parliament has warned.

Antonio Tajani accused Theresa May of being “unrealistic”, insisting a figure closer to €60bn was needed to get Brexit talks back on track.

He said the situation was “not good” and that “we need to know what the UK wants to do” before any real progress on the crucial issue of trade talks could begin.

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Tajani’s comments ramp up the pressure ahead of Thursday’s full meeting of the heads of the 28 EU countries, including the UK, where Brexit will be one of the main topics on the agenda.

Prime minister May is believed to want to address the leaders on her vision – but she will be asked to leave the two-day summit early on Friday, when the remaining members of the bloc will discuss the UK’s position in her absence.

Speaking to BBC’s Newsnight, Tajani said: “We need our money back, as Mrs Thatcher said 30 or 40 years ago. This is important for us.”

That was a direct reference to the rebate the former Conservative prime minister secured for Britain all those years ago.

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“We are realistic,” Tajani told the BBC. “The UK government is not realistic.

“But we want not euro more and not euro less. This is very clear for us. But we need to pay, this is the third point, then it is possible to start for the negotiations for the new deal.”

Theresa May will be hoping for a warm welcome from EU leaders such as Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Challenged that the EU was delaying negotiations to get a larger settlement, Tajani replied: “€​20bn is peanuts, it’s peanuts €20bn… The problem is 50, 60, this is the real situation.”

Tory MPs are still bitterly divided over Brexit, with many openly plotting, for example, to remove chancellor Philip Hammond for his “Eeyore” approach to leaving the EU.

Many are known to support May’s oft-quoted “no deal is better than a bad deal” stance, while others say quitting the bloc and defaulting to World Trade Organisation tariffs and rules would be a disaster.

Tajani added: “This is the problem. It is not very clear because there are a lot of problems inside the European Union. We are united.

“I don’t know if there is a unity, where is the unity in the United Kingdom? Because there are many different positions. We have only one position, only one negotiator.”

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Nothing has been agreed over five rounds of Brexit talks over several months between Brexit secretary David Davis and Michel Barnier, his opposite number in Brussels.

Barnier – backed by the EU – has insisted the divorce bill must be settled before trade talks begin, as well as the future rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice-versa, and what happens to the border between Northern Ireland and the South.