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The EU's Negotiator Has Smacked Down Boris Johnson's Claim He Can "Go Whistle" Over The Brexit Bill

"I’m not hearing any whistling, just a clock ticking," Michel Barnier told reporters.

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Thierry Charlier / AFP / Getty Images

The European Union's chief negotiator has slapped down remarks from Boris Johnson that suggested the UK could walk away from the prospect of paying a heavy final bill to the EU.

The British foreign secretary had said EU negotiators could "go whistle" if they expected Britain to pay an "extortionate" bill when the UK left the union.

"I’m not hearing any whistling, just a clock ticking," Michel Barnier told reporters on Tuesday in Brussels after an Irish Times reporter referred to Johnson's remarks.

Barnier went on to say that it would be impossible to move forward with negotiations until the British team agreed a position on what has become known as the "divorce bill". Some estimates put this figure at up to €100 billion (£89 billion).

"It is not an exit bill, it is not a ransom – we won't ask for anything else that ... the UK has committed to as a member," Barnier said.

"We have to settle the accounts of the past before we talk about the future," says @MichelBarnier

Johnson's remarks had already met with a degree of criticism. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was "ridiculous" that the foreign secretary descended to "silly, arrogant language" when discussing Brexit.

The Brexit minister David Davis also dismissed Johnson's comments, telling the BBC yesterday: "Bluntly, I wouldn't worry," and saying he was "not going to comment on other ministers".

Meanwhile, the London Evening Standard, edited by former chancellor George Osborne, had a different take. "Like any serious Foreign Secretary, we’re sure that Boris Johnson chooses his words carefully," the newspaper's spiky editorial read today. "However," it added, "in the year since the referendum it has become clear to most that there will in fact be a hefty price tag associated with leaving the EU."

Setting out a tough stall, Barnier went on to emphasise that UK-EU trade deals could not be discussed until the issue of the divorce payment and European citizens rights in the UK had been settled.

"The sooner we receive clarification from the British, the better," he said. "I'm ready, our team is ready."

Barnier went on to say he would meet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Wales' first minister Carwyn Jones at their request. "I have always made clear that I want to listen to different points of view in the British debate, it is only natural," he said.

"Of course," he added, "I will only negotiate with the UK government."

During Prime Minister's Questions, with both PM Theresa May and Corbyn stepping aside, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry repeatedly pushed May's de facto deputy Damian Green over what would happen if there was no deal with the EU.

Thornberry: clear up whether there is a plan for No Deal: BoJo says No, Davis disagrees with himself, PM puts suggestion boxes in Parliament

Green eventually said a forthcoming report by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility would cover the "fiscal" possibilities of no EU deal.

However, the OBR subsequently tweeted:

Just to be clear, we are NOT assessing 'no deal' and other possible Brexit negotiation outcomes in our Fiscal Risks Report tomorrow

Rose Troup Buchanan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Rose Troup Buchanan at

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