Coming soon to a theatre near you: Theresa May dressed up like Santa and offering the EU £40bn for its divorce bill. It sounds like a fantasy film, or, depending from which side you see it, a total nightmare for Brexiteers. But, as Conservative MP, Nigel Evans said, the government shouldn’t “play Santa Claus” to EU leaders by offering them more billions.

While Downing Street explained that they won’t be giving more than the £20bn they have already offered to the EU, Mr Evans accused the EU for keeping us hostages and demanding “ransom money” to leave the EU. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, former minister Robert Halfon argued that voters would “go bananas” if the government doubled its offer to the EU. 

The Conservative MP said that, despite being a Remainer, the fact was that "we voted to leave, the public want to leave, and I cannot believe that the public would accept such a huge amount when we need money for our schools, our hospitals, our housing, and many other things". With austerity being on the agenda before Wednesday’s Budget, the public, he said, “will go bananas, absolutely spare.” Probably we would go bananas, and if we are to go bananas we’ll do that in groups of twos and threes, since Boris Johnson told us that the EU doesn’t allow bananas to be sold in bunches of more than two or three. 

To give or not to give, newspapers ponder

The Sun is agreeing that offering another £20bn would be advantageous, despite the newspaper initially arguing that £24bn and a trade deal would be all that was necessary to move on with Brexit. Last week, however, it stated that the price of a deal, was actually paying the price. “The EU will not give us a free trade deal without a big chunk of our cash. Those of us who believe a good deal is better than none are realistic about that,” the Sun wrote on Thursday, last week. The article clarified that, “if the Government calculates that the long-term benefits are worth substantially more than the £18billion we have so far put up, so be it. Offer more. Not one penny of it should be transferred until the deal is signed, sealed and delivered. And it cannot be beyond price. There must be a limit to what Theresa May will spend. If she offers £20billion more and Brussels still won’t play ball, let’s walk away.” So, the Sun is willing, but, not totally open to negotiations à la Barnier. 

But while Murdoch’s newspaper is less reluctant to show more money, May’s big supporter, the Daily Mail and its editor Paul Dacre, were a bit resistant to increasing their offering. Attacking Philip Hammond, rather than May herself, the tabloid wrote: “More worrying by far is why, when he should have been focusing on the budget, the chancellor waded into the Brexit debate, hinting he was ready to pay a significantly larger divorce bill than the generous sum pledged by Theresa May. It is not as if the EU has offered a single concession to justify an improved offer. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has merely issued an ultimatum: cough up much more than the £18bn on the table, or we won’t even discuss our future relationship. Why should we surrender to blackmail?”

Michel Barnier’s Speech

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, talking to “The Future of the EU Conference” today, said that the EU will block a Brexit deal if the UK diverges significantly from the European model. He stated: “The UK has chosen to leave the EU. We respect this choice. Does it want to stay close to the European model? Or does it want to gradually move away from it? And the UK’s reply to these questions will be very important, and even decisive, because it will shape the discussion on our future relationship, and shape also the condition for ratification of that partnership in many national parliaments, and obviously in the European parliament. I don’t say that to create a problem. I just say that to avoid problems, to say clearly what are the conditions for the success of ratification in this second stage of the negotiation.”

Barnier here touches upon the issue of the UK moving away from the EU regulatory model, something that the leaked letter from BoJo and Gove urged Theresa May to do. As Boris and Gove wrote to May, “We may choose to remain identical to the EU - or we may embrace a vision more aligned with pro-competitive regulation.”

But Barnier was positive, assuring the UK that the EU wants a deal with the UK, and that those who say otherwise ignore the privileges of EU membership. He also promised that the EU would offer an “ambitious” free trade agreement if the UK remained close to the EU’s regulatory regime.

On the contrary, Brexiteers would continue responding to things they don’t like, no matter what the EU offers or says. As Best for Britain, a group campaigning for a second Brexit referendum, said, Barnier’s speech called the bluff of those extremist Brexiters in the government “who have spent the last year falsely claiming we can get the best free trade deal by not getting any deal at all. The Brexiters are too busy briefing rubbish about each other to the press to look at the real consequences of Brexit. Putting their fingers in their ears while singing Rule Britannia is not how adults negotiate.”

Maybe, wanting to avoid things we don’t understand or disagree with, we should adopt Boris Johnson childish method of coping with daily harsh realities. As Philip Stephens in the Financial Times wrote: “I am told that Johnson’s response when presented with inconvenient truths is to cover his ears and hum the national anthem until the bearers of the bad news go away.”