The UK leaving the EU is no divorce and we certainly do not have to pay alimony

One of the more absurd analogies that pass for debate in the EU is that the EU and the UK need a divorce settlement. For a body which loves Treaties and lawyers it is bizarre. The Treaty makes no provision to require a departing state to pay an extra one off payment, nor does it seek or have any power over former states to carry on paying contributions. There is no need for lengthy negotiations on this obvious point. The answer to the request for a large one off financial contribution is No.

To make this a more interesting and longer article, I will however extend the divorce metaphor that so many like. Were this a divorce, it is between two high earning partners. The domineering husband, the EU, earns six times as much as his UK wife. He lives in a large suburban family home in Berlin, with a smart modern flat in Brussels. His wife has a country cottage in Wiltshire where she has retreated to as whenever they meet she just gets shouted at and told what to do. He has a large Mercedes. She drives a modern Mini.

Fortunately there are no children from the marriage. She is generously offering a clean break settlement to the husband to speed things up and to get on with her life, free of his endless demands for cash and obedience. It’s none of her business that he has run up huge bills with his Greek affairs, as she did not agree to any of those and made clear her wish to keep out of it all at the time.

As the husband wishes to undertake the divorce in a foreign court and she intends to live under UK law it is difficult to see how the husband thinks he can carry on with his demands once his foreign jurisdiction no longer applies.


  1. Man of Kent
    February 14, 2017

    Super , a great chuckle and lovely metaphor !

  2. Iain Moore
    February 14, 2017

    Leaving the Euro also means leaving the EU. So if bankrupt Greece leaves the Euro and so departs the EU, how will the EU pursue them for divorce payments? It will be a case of can’t afford to stay in the EU, and can’t afford to leave.

    It wouldn’t be surprising if the EU goes to every dotted i and crossed t to extract every penny from us, but later on allow all these hard and fast rules to become flexible.

    Knowing what a push over the British authorities are, which always costs us, one thing the British negotiating team should ensure is that there is a poison pill left in the divorce terms, that allows us to claw back funds from them if they later on try to settle other divorces on more accommodating terms.

    1. Mark B
      February 14, 2017

      There is nothing in the Treaties that apply countries leaving the Euro, only the EU.

      ie The Greeks cannot be forced out !

  3. Ian Wragg
    February 14, 2017

    As you know John the treaties are what the EU says they are. Barnier says his first job is to agree a formula whereby we hand over €60 billion.
    Irrespective as to whether it’s legal or not that’s their opening gambit.
    Presumably until that’s agreed there will be no further negotiations.
    The whole excersise will continue in this vain until we walk out in frustration.
    I don’t believe the EU is capable of negotiating in good faith

    1. Mark B
      February 14, 2017

      The EU has to act in good faith. If the USA, Commonwealth, and other nations see the UK being mistreated this would look very bad for the EU.

      My guess is, they will start high and try to be bid down all the while demanding something in return. Our stock answer should be that what I have said previously.

      “If it is not in the treaties, it does not apply”

    2. acorn
      February 14, 2017

      Spot on Ian. Brexiteers are arrogantly forgetting that the UK is leaving the EU Club. The EU Club is not ejecting the UK from the EU Club. The EU subscription income will drop by about a net 8%. The ECB can easily cover that till new members turn up.

      Trade will still go on. Prices, hence volumes, of goods and services will change, depending on the level of net protection – import tariffs etc – politicians are forced to introduce, to protect their party vote at the next General Election.

      As my continental colleagues keep telling me. The EU can just say thank-you for informing the EU Club, that you are formally giving up your membership, as required by the rules for leaving the EU Club; we wish the UK the best of luck for the future. Your account closing Bill is attached.

      On receipt of your account closing remittance, the EU Club may be minded to agree some jointly beneficial arrangements.

  4. Peter D Gardner
    February 14, 2017

    The thing is that in this life those fighting for a just cause don’t always win. Winning requires one to be prepared to make sacrifices for principle. I am with Simon Heffer: I would eat grass to be rid of the EU completely and never see it again. Does Mrs May have the backbone or will she be pragmatic and trade principle for some material gain or, worse, for that oft repeated mistaken illusion of ‘goodwill’?

    1. alan jutson
      February 14, 2017


      We do not have to eat grass, we simply walk away and pay nothing, what are they going to do, stop selling us their goods ?

  5. Alastair Harris
    February 14, 2017

    You fell into the elephant trap. Actually the EU earns nothing. It survived on state benefits, which it fritters away on a variety of pointless activities. Without the UK it is either going to have to cut back, or ask the remaining mugs to cough up more.

  6. Tweeter_L
    February 14, 2017

    Ha Ha- excellent analogy. Why anyone can think we will owe an “exit payment” is beyond me, although I can see how the EU “government” must be shaking at the prospect of one of its biggest benefactors disappearing, so they will try it on.

  7. Antisthenes
    February 14, 2017

    The EU like all spurned spouses will want to extract some revenge for being walked out on. Reason and common sense and even the law will not persuade the EU to act honourably. Demands will be made and tactics will be used that will be outrageous. The aim being to extract compensation not by being on the right side of the argument but because they can by their size be far more disruptive. They will want paying to stop. It is the most aggressive and vociferous who usually win not those who have the best case.

  8. Denis Cooper
    February 14, 2017

    Very amusing, JR, I hope our negotiators will get EU negotiators to share the joke.

    However on a more serious note, whatever we do end up paying – probably spread over future years, rather than as a single lump sum, provided the eurocrats decide that we can be trusted to keep our word and pay what we promise as it falls due – will not be the cost of leaving the EU, it will be part of the cost of having joined it in the first place.

    If we had voted to stay in the EU we would be paying in this money anyway, and much much more besides, year after year in perpetuity.

    1. Mark B
      February 14, 2017


      The EU is nothing without its members. Just like any club. Thanks to all those other countries that joined after we did, it has become a very expensive pursuit (EVER CLOSER UNION).

      The EU will not reduce its budget, but others, like Spain, will have to pay more. Fun times ahead 🙂

    2. zorro
      February 14, 2017

      Why do we need to continue payments of any sort at their denand? Why be defeatist? Any money they claim should be set against what we have already paid into the EU as a net contributor….


  9. alan jutson
    February 14, 2017

    I agree absolutely, NO is the answer no matter how many times the question will be rephrased.

    I only hope our negotiation team and the Prime Minister are of the same mind.

    If the EU insist on some sort of payment before they will talk about anything else, then the simple answer is to simply walk away, and start trade talks with the rest of the World, as negotiations will have deemed to have been completed.

    Do not wait 2 years, do not pass go, do not collect the £200, do not go to jail or take a chance, game over.

    1. zorro
      February 14, 2017

      We should be talking with other non-EU nations now (as we are) now. The EU can only insist that we do not sign/implement any extra EU agreements until we have left the EU…..


  10. Anonymous
    February 14, 2017

    The worse the alimony is the more reasonable we will look to the rest of the World in not paying it.

  11. Richard
    February 14, 2017

    There is no question of the UK being asked to pay a fee to leave.
    There is, however, a question of quantifying the commitments already undertaken by the UK (to pensions, to future agreed projects etc).
    To use your metaphor, the wife cannot refuse to pay her share of the bill for the party that both spouses agreed to throw, before their relationship broke up, and for which contracts have been signed

    1. zorro
      February 14, 2017

      OK let’s liquidate joint assets. We have contributed (overly so) for many years and should not lose out. Take some money from that.

      By the way, the EU has no mechanism to legally enforce his non-existent liability. What are you going to do about it?


    2. James Matthews
      February 14, 2017

      The divorce analogy is flawed, but if it were to apply, the wife would of course get a share of the assets based on her contributions during the marriage (in this case rather a lot).

  12. Atlas
    February 14, 2017


    Indeed there is a class of people in this Country who seem actively to want the worst for us… Would we have called them a ‘fifth column’ in the past?

    1. zorro
      February 14, 2017

      Most definitely…. It makes me cringe to see the evident glee in some eyes at the thought of us being screwed.


  13. Norman
    February 14, 2017

    Brilliant! Pleased that you’re bearing up – humour is a good antidote to it all.

  14. John O'Leary
    February 14, 2017

    As I understand it, in addition to existing treaty obligations we are also signed up to various scientific and other research programmes. In the case of the Horizon Framework these ‘contracts’, for that is in fact what they amount to, are for a duration of up to 7 years. I also understand that one or two of these programmes are based in the UK and provide gainful employment to a significant number of British nationals. Are you suggesting that we should simply withdraw from these on the day we exit the EU? If not isn’t a secession treaty absolutely essential to avoid a ‘messy divorce’?

    Reply I expect both sides will want to continue those

    1. Mark B
      February 14, 2017


      When there are visible reasons to pay monies to the EU, I am sure many would not mind so long as it is of mutual benefit. It is the handing over of large sums to unaccountable bureaucrats to waste on nations like Spain who build airports that are never used etc.

      There is a great deal of corruption in the EU and because they are not the ones raising the funds, the member countries are, it is of little risk to them.

  15. Eh?
    February 14, 2017

    It was EU’s insistence on thrice daily consummation of the marriage that proved eye-watering.

  16. Andy
    February 14, 2017

    Quite so. I hope David Davis, when presented with the paper demanding £50billion plus, looks at it, laughs, tears it up, gets up to leave and says to the EU Negotiators ‘Do telephone when you are prepared to be serious. Good Afternoon’.

  17. Mitchel
    February 14, 2017

    The problem is with all those East European foster children,still dependent despite their advancing years,that mummy was so keen to adopt when their strict biological father didn’t want them anymore!

  18. ian
    February 14, 2017

    You forgot the bit were her friends in the house tell her to give away money to any one who comes a calling.

  19. fedupsoutherner
    February 14, 2017

    Very clever indeed John. Let’s hope our MP’s feel the same. There is just no way that we should hand over any money to the EU. They’ve already had enough and look at the mess they have made with it.

  20. turboterrier
    February 14, 2017

    Fantastic entry today John.

    Having been there, done it, got the T shirt and made the video the only thing you can say is that what gets rubber stamped in the negotiations is it, final and full settlement.

    Hopefully our courts will not allow a comeback for more, a few years down the track.

    The basic premise is that we owe them money or anything come to that must surely be treated with a reply where the second word is off!!

  21. brian
    February 14, 2017

    John, you for got to mention the holiday home in Strasbourg.

    1. Mark B
      February 14, 2017

      Err ! SECOND holiday home more like 😉

  22. Tad Davison
    February 14, 2017

    But don’t these ‘absurd analogies’ tell us much about the appallingly bad standard of reporting that passes for journalism these days?

    Poorly informed, badly written, no real investigative digging – just regurgitating the official line, and generally useless as a means to convey the real story to the people.


    1. zorro
      February 14, 2017

      Repeaters pushing the party line….. Decent investigative journalism is increasingly difficult to find. Reporters seem unable to curtail their own opinions which end up clouding their judgement. There are many different analytical biases of which they are very guilty…..


  23. E.S Tablishment
    February 14, 2017

    We ought to be speaking to smaller EU states with a view to guaranteeing our continued economic support for them if they leave the EU too. After all we are already budgetted for such support and we have an overseas aid budget also. All this business of Mrs May wishing “a strong EU” is a bit wishy-washy and seemingly ingenuine

  24. forthurst
    February 14, 2017

    “Fortunately there are no children from the marriage.”

    Have you forgotten Ukraine and Turkey? These children are expensive what with Master Ukraine always asking for for more toy guns with which to threaten the big boy next door and Master Turkey continualy demanding more pocket money to agree to constrain his toy soldiers from spreading all over the Sitting Room floor.

  25. Simon
    February 14, 2017

    John all legality aside unless we settle what is said to be our bill we are not going to get any kind of future relationship. That is the reality. How you are going to respond when the wheels fall of your “leaving is very simple and anyone saying otherwise is an idiot” is going to be the defining political spectator sport of the next two years. So moderate my comment as usual by all means ! But we will see in due course who is right.

    The annoying thing is I am a dedicated Brexiter and admire all those who have carried the banner for many years. But I am not a Kamikaze economist.

    Reply The possible Agreements on leaving are more helpful to them than us, so we do not need to bribe them to sign.

  26. English Pensioner
    February 14, 2017

    From my time in the Civil Service and looking at some of the contracts which have been negotiated by the state for various services and equipment, it is apparent to me that the state doesn’t have any negotiators who are in any way comparable with those in industry. Contracts always seem to cost far more than they should and the contractors never seem to fulfil all their promises, but no-one ever seems to be the slightest bit concerned.

    I just hope that we have some better negotiators than is apparent from the state’s commercial dealings. Far from the attitude of “we must agree a contract because we need these supplies/services” they need to be made fully aware that in the case of the Brexit negotiations, “No deal” is far better than than a bad one and that they will not have failed if they choose to walk away from negotiations. This, I feel, will be a very difficult concept for our negotiators to understand!

  27. BCL
    February 14, 2017

    If we have to pay for our alleged commitments to future expenses does the EU have to buy from us our share of the EU assets (parliament buildings for example) we have helped pay for over the years?

  28. MikeP
    February 14, 2017

    This is a lovely metaphor John and a powerful one in simplifying the tough stance we must take against a bullying Barnier and team. I do hope you get the opportunity to air this analogy far and wide in the media as it is plainly so apt. The British people are no-one’s easy pushover.

  29. BOF
    February 14, 2017

    I seem to remember Mr Cameron paying the EU 12 billion when they demanded it a few years ago, having first made a great fuss and said we would not pay!

    I fear the worst and the PM will make the usual excuses and shovel a huge amount of money across the channel; having first borrowed it, of course.

    1. Know-dice
      February 15, 2017

      I think that was ONLY about 1.7 Billion…

      Mind you it was based on “illegal” commercial activities like drugs and prostitution – which idiot in Westminster came up with those figures for the EU to tax us on?

  30. Leslie Singleton
    February 14, 2017

    Dear John–I wish the Government (especially our “I-don’t-hate-the-EU” PM) would stop saying that we want the EU to prosper. Au contraire, I wish it would collapse completely. Then it might become a better customer (a la Hannan) on basis that the half of the EU stuck with hardly believable unemployment and low or negative growth might have a chance to pick itself off the floor. I support the plan one reads about wherein America funds Greece to enable it to get out of the Euro. Marvellous and Trump is the man to do it.

  31. Helen Taylor
    February 14, 2017

    You also forgot to mention all his friends and strangers he kept bringing home and expecting her to look after, while they kept abusing her and her hospitality all the time.

  32. Doug Powell
    February 14, 2017

    Amusing JR, but we are not going to laugh the EU into a just deal! All Brexiteers will be with you, but what action is being taken to consolidate that support into an unstoppable movement? A movement that will give Mrs May the required backbone and sweep aside the likes of “10 year” Sir Ivan.

    Even 2 years is far too long. It is imperative to stamp our cast iron position into the proceedings from the get go. If that encounters resistance, then move to the WTO option immediately, otherwise the ‘Extending and Pretending, Never Ending Negotiators’ will destroy a proper Brexit!

  33. rose
    February 14, 2017

    Yes, the divorce analogy is preposterous.

    I am worried about the Ex Pats. The EU knows we won’t renege on our arrangements with the EU settlers here, no matter how many millions of them there are, so I fear they will use the Ex Pats for extracting further money from us instead. (As well as demanding alimony and a settlement,)

    1. alan jutson
      February 15, 2017


      Most ex pats are using their UK earned/funded pension to spend it in the EU already if they are settled there.

      Unfortunately the same cannot be said of many who come here who do not have such funds, and money earned here is sent back to their families abroad.

      Thus we are hit with a double edged sword.

      1. fedupsoutherner
        February 15, 2017

        Quite right Alan Jutson.

        You cannot just move to Spain and expect benefits and housing from the state. If you don’t have your own means of either owning or renting a property then you will be homeless.

  34. zorro
    February 14, 2017

    Yes John, I have had to explain the realities of divorce to people and the splitting of assets/liabilities. The BBC are very keen to promote a one way divorce where one partner is liable for everything and gets nothing from what they put in the marriage.

    Of course, the divorce metaphor is utter tosh, but it never ceases to surprise me how the media take people for fools thinking that they actually believe thier agenda!!


  35. Original Richard
    February 14, 2017

    Remainers are calling for the government to unilaterally declare ahead of the Brexit negotiations “to show goodwill” that all EU nationals currently residing in the UK should be allowed to stay in the UK “and be treated as UK nationals”.

    I trust that the government will however ensure that EU nationals committing serious or repeated crimes can be deported.

    Also that “treated as UK nationals” does not extend to voting rights or to automatic and non-reciprocal access to our health and welfare systems etc..

    1. James Matthews
      February 15, 2017

      “Also that “treated as UK nationals” does not extend to voting rights or to automatic and non-reciprocal access to our health and welfare systems etc..”

      Absolutely. To allow or extend such rights would be a recipe for overturning Brexit in the not so distant future.

      Nor do I believe that the commitment should be unconditional anyway. If the EU were successfully to impose such a punitive settlement as to cause large scale UK job losses (it is to be hoped that this will not happen, but UK negotiators, like English sports teams, have a strong track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory) the jobs of EU migrants should go first.

      I doubt our host would support this. He seeks the moral high ground. I just want the best possible deal for UK citizens.

  36. Original Richard
    February 14, 2017

    Mrs. May’s speech of 17/01 setting out the governments negotiating objectives for exiting the EU included the paragraph :

    “And I do not believe that the EU’s leaders will seriously tell German exporters, French farmers, Spanish fishermen, the young unemployed of the Eurozone, and millions of others, that they want to make them poorer, just to punish Britain and make a political point.”

    Surely the Spanish fishermen must be adversely affected unless the government intends to sell out our fishing grounds for the second time to the EU ?

  37. Martin Steadman
    February 14, 2017

    What happens if the EU cracks apart in the next two years?

    Seems not unlikely.

  38. turboterrier
    February 14, 2017

    Sorry John but this very slightly O/T should have occurred on yesterday’s post about the media.

    Now then I am sure as a very hard working graduate you more than deserved your doctorate
    But and there is always a but!!

    Tonight on the BBC One Show it took a person with a Doctorate that on testing the air pollution in two cities London and York that the contamination of air for delivery cyclists is far greater in London than in York!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Well slap my thigh who would have ever thought that? My perception of the whole segment was totally pathetic in that having driven round and worked in both “cities” volume of traffic and the fact you have possibly four major airports within surrounding London Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton it has no more comparison than that of a bucket load of fish.

    But that aside can I say through your site that all your readers are entitled to award themselves a Doctorate from the University of Urban Guerrilla Warfare of Logical Thinking for applying common sense to the problem presented.

    The BBC is finished when they treat their audience with such contempt.

    The football chant of “What A LOAD OF B******* springs to mind.

  39. rick hamilton
    February 15, 2017

    Your brilliant analogy reminds me of another case: Nicola Sturgeon.

    She is forever complaining about being dominated by Mr Westminster who nevertheless pays a lot of her bills. He also has three other wives and one of them – England – gets much more attention.
    She wants a divorce but only if she can immediately marry a glamorous and generous foreigner, Mr Brussels.
    Unfortunately for her, as she can’t see it, he already has 27 other wives who pay all his bills !

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