Key EU lawmaker warns UK it must act to unblock Brexit talks

By JILL LAWLESSMarketsAssociated Press

A leading member of the European Parliament met Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday, warning that Britain needs to do more to settle the terms of its divorce from the European Union or risk negotiations being delayed even further.

Manfred Weber held talks with the British leader at 10 Downing St. In a video message before the meeting he said Britain needs to resolve issues including its outstanding financial commitments, because "when somebody is leaving a club" they must pay their bills.

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EU leaders are increasingly frustrated with Britain's reluctance to signal how much it is willing to pay to settle its commitments to the 28-nation bloc. The Brexit bill— estimated by the EU at somewhere around 60 billion euros ($70 billion) — is a key sticking point preventing the EU from allowing talks to move on to trade and future relations.

The 27 other EU leaders are due to decide next month whether there has been sufficient progress for talks to enter a new phase.

Weber, who heads the center-right EPP group in the European Parliament, said Tuesday that at the moment "it doesn't look as if we are going to be entering into the second phase" next month. But after meeting May, he tweeted that he felt progress was possible and "there is a willingness for compromise."

Weber said outside Downing St. that Britain did not need to name an exact figure for its Brexit bill, but must "clarify the commitments" it is willing to meet.

Meanwhile, May's government battled in the House of Commons to pass its key piece of Brexit legislation amid opposition from pro-EU lawmakers.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is designed to prevent a legal vacuum by converting some 12,000 EU laws into British statute on the day the U.K. leaves the bloc in March 2019.

But many lawmakers claim the bill gives the government too much power to amend legislation without parliamentary scrutiny. And opponents of Brexit — both from the opposition and from May's Conservative Party — are trying to amend it to soften the terms of Britain's exit from the bloc.

Debate in the House of Commons has turned testy, with Brexit-backing Conservatives accusing their pro-European party colleagues of trying to stop Britain from leaving the EU.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday ran front-page photos of pro-EU Conservatives, branding them "the Brexit mutineers."

Lawmaker Anna Soubry said that kind of language was a "blatant piece of bullying that goes to the very heart of democracy." She said she had received threatening social media messages — including one calling for rebel lawmakers' heads "on spikes" — and had reported them to police.

May told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the debate had aroused "strong views" but that the government wanted to work with others to improve the bill.

"I hope that we can all come together to deliver on the decision that the country took" to leave the EU, she said.