“How big a Brexit bill would Labour pay?” asked Mark Wallace yesterday on Left Watch. That is a fair question and I hope one that TV and radio interviewers will pursue. Not that they have any chance of getting an answer. There was an ICM poll for The Guardian this week which showed the strong level of public hostility to a substantial payment,

The wording of the question made the idea of handing over money to the EU sound as reasonable as possible:

It said:

“As you may know the negotiation process necessary for the UK to leave the European Union is underway. There have been suggestions that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, and her negotiating team will have to make some compromises during Brexit negotiations. Do you think it would be acceptable or unacceptable for the UK to compromise in the following ways?”

It then asked about willingness to pay various sums in view of “commitments made by the EU when the UK was a member.” A figure of “up to £10 billion” was considered “acceptable” by 41 per cent, “not acceptable” by 40 per cent. £20 billion was judged acceptable to 18 per cent and “not acceptable” to 65 per cent, £30 billion was “acceptable” to 11 per cent, “unacceptable” to 72 per cent. While £40 billion was “acceptable to just nine per cent and unacceptable to 75 per cent”.

Another poll, conducted for the LSE and reported last month, found that most of those who voted Remain, as well as Leave voters, were opposed to making any payment at all.

There is no legal basis for the EU’s claim that we owe them money. So the justification for making a payment would be to secure a trade deal. But as Andrew Neil, asked on Twitter:

“Is there any free trade deal in the world between major economies that involves one side paying the other for access (but not vice versa)?”

On BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions last night Jacob Rees-Mogg pondered what would happen if an EU member state that was a net recipient of EU finds had chosen to leave. Would the EU continue to make “transitional” payments to that nation after it had ceased to be a member?

It may, of course, be that excessive demands from the EU result in there being no deal and thus no payment. However some other EU member states have shown signs of exasperation at Michel Barnier’s obstructive approach. The Spectator this week noted:

“The French government, too, seems to be growing weary of Barnier’s blocking tactics. It has proposed a compromise in which demands for Britain to pay a ‘leaving bill’ of €100 billion would be dropped in return for us agreeing to continue paying our annual £10 billion contribution for a transitional period of three years. That would allow trade talks to commence, but Barnier and his team have rebuffed the idea.” 

The Prime Minister has said that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. There is a risk of that being forgotten. Amidst the drama and the media circus around the negotiations the feeling for David Davis is that coming away without a deal would be a terrible humiliation. Yet for many British taxpayers, it would be the handing over of billions to the EU after we have left, that would be the undesirable outcome.

A majority feel that, in the words of the Foreign Secretary, the Eurocrats should “go whistle” for the money.