The Independent has reported that a Dutch newspaper has got access to a leaked document that says the EU will take the UK to the International Court of Justice if it refuses to pay the £50bn divorce bill. An EU official is quoted threatening Theresa May in response to her suggestion to leave the EU without a deal: “In that case it is: see you in The Hague!”

The newspaper De Volkskrant, in an article titled “This is the Secret EU Strategy for Separation from the British”, refers to the ten-page draft as “the best kept secret in Brussels”, which only six people (including the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker) have seen. It outlines the EU strategy and sets out the basic demands of the 27 EU member states.  

Access to the single market

The draft begins with the kind of relationship that the EU will have with the UK after Brexit and that access to the single market would depend on accepting the four freedoms. Of course, this will be the biggest hurdle of the coming negotiations. 

In the third chapter, the draft discusses the “future relations” and that the EU-27 stress that Britain should lose some of its current trade benefits.

Divorce terms

The second chapter of the draft deals with the terms of the divorce. The EU member states want guarantees for both EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in other EU countries. 

Financial obligations

It says that Theresa May has been advised by government lawyers that the UK would be able to leave the EU without legally having to pay anything. 

The report argues that the bill is politically a “minefield” because it is difficult to evaluate the various costs and Britain’s contributions. Particularly, Britain’s contributions have to do with an earlier demand by British Prime Minister David Cameron to reduce the EU budget for the period between 2014-2020, which resulted in limited payments the first few years.

Execution of divorce

The draft states that if London refuses to acknowledge the European Court of Justice, another possibility would be the International Court in The Hague. 

May summit

The draft mentions that a special summit in May will agree on the negotiation mandate. After that the mandate will go to the European Commission which will agree on the negotiation principles. It is said that it won’t be a lengthy process because Juncker and Michel Barnier, the European Chief Negotiator for Brexit, have prepared this draft in “close consultation.” 

The EU’s negotiating forces 

The French Michel Barnier and the German Sabine Weyand—the Deputy Chief Brexit Negotiator—have prepared all policy, and have defined how the withdrawal will progress and its consequences. Barnier hopes to move on quickly with the negotiations so the divorce is already finalised before the European elections in May 2019. 

The newspaper commented that despite their “light-hearted campaign language”, the Brexiters are now “totally silent.”

If everything goes as planned, the negotiations would progress smoothly and the UK will leave the EU with the right deal. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said in the past all negotiations begin with the two parties presenting their ideal positions, but eventually deals are made on mutual understanding and compromise. 

What about leaving without a deal?

According to the Guardian, some Brexiters and Conservative frontbenchers are confident and “relaxed about the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU on to World Trade Organisation rules.” The former cabinet member Theresa Villiers has said that, while it is ideal for the EU and the UK to strike a deal, such a possibility isn’t guaranteed. She recommended that following WTO rules isn’t a “disastrous” alternative and that “WTO rules would still allow us to do billions of pounds of business in goods and services with the EU.” The Conservative MP, Anna Soubry, warned, however, that “There is nothing to be blase or relaxed about choosing for Britain to trade with our biggest economic partner under WTO rules. Every credible assessment done says this would be the worst trading arrangement possible for jobs, investment and growth.” While senior figures are warning about leaving the EU without a deal, others are being open about a transitional deal.

But the optimistic group of Brexiters believe that, unlike the EU’s negativity, embracing WTO rules isn’t such a bad prospect and WTO members wouldn’t seek to punish the UK. As the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson said, the result would be “perfectly OK.”