THERESA May has raised the prospect of not paying a £39 billion “divorce bill” to the EU in the event she does not secure a deal.

She made the threat after being asked by a Tory backbencher at Prime Minister’s Questions what she would do in terms of the payment if an agreement on a future trading arrangement was not done.

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Replying to Chris Philip, she said: “We are very clear that we need to have a link between the future relationship and the withdrawal agreement, but we are a country that honours our obligations.

“We believe in the rule of law, and therefore we believe in abiding by our legal obligations. However, my hon. Friend is right that the specific offer was made in the spirit of our desire to reach a deal with the European Union and on the basis, as the EU itself has said, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Without a deal, the position changes.”

The proposed financial settlement was part of the withdrawal negotiations that both sides agreed in principle in December to cover outstanding financial obligations and future liabilities arising from the UK’s EU membership.

May’s intervention yesterday comes days after Chancellor Philip Hammond spoke about the financial settlement, suggesting that even with a no deal the UK would still have some financial obligations to the EU. He said to quantify those sums “could require a complex and time-consuming process of arbitration”.

The National:

Leading Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg

In London yesterday the pro-Brexit European Research Group set out its proposals to prevent a hard border in Ireland while keeping the UK out of the customs unions. The group, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, believes the border can remain open after Brexit through the use of technology and by modifying existing arrangements. Its report argued the issue of the border has been allowed to frame negotiations over Brexit.

“The key obstacle in the negotiations is the EU’s concern that goods could enter into the single market area through the Irish border without being compliant with EU standards or tariffs. The question for the EU is whether this risk to the integrity of the single market is so serious that it could block a free trade agreement with the UK,” it said.

The paper was introduced by Rees-Mogg with a panel including former Brexit secretary David Davis, former Northern Ireland secretaries Theresa Villiers and Owen Patterson and former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble. It suggested customs, VAT, and rules of origin checks could be conducted away from the border, using trusted trader schemes.

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“Such measures can ensure the trade across the Irish border is maintained. The EU will be able to maintain the integrity of its internal market without erecting a hard border along its border with Northern Ireland. At the same time, the United Kingdom will be able to develop a fully independent trade policy rather than remaining a rule-taker,” it said.

But in a blow to Brexiteers, the European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker used his annual State of the Union address to say the EU would stand by Ireland in the Brexit process.

He said: “The European Commission, this parliament and all other 26 member states will always show loyalty and solidarity with Ireland when it comes to the Irish border. This is why we want to find a creative solution that prevents a hard border in Northern Ireland. But we will equally be very outspoken should the British Government walk away from its responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement. It is not the European Union, it is Brexit that risks making the border more visible in Northern Ireland.”

He urged the UK to understand that it could not be “in some privileged position” post-Brexit, and could not be in part of the single market.