British Prime Minister Theresa May.  Picture: REUTERS/STEFAN WERMUTH
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS/STEFAN WERMUTH

London — Britain did not recognise reports in the media that the government was willing to pay €40bn to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Monday.

The "exit bill" is one of the most contentious issues on the Brexit negotiating agenda.

The EU has floated a figure of €60bn, while Britain has not indicated how much it would be prepared to pay.

Britain would be willing to pay up to €40bn, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with Britain’s negotiating strategy.

"In terms of this figure, I don’t recognise it," May’s spokesman said. "The prime minister made clear in the letter triggering article 50 [the EU exit process] that the UK and the EU need to discuss a fair settlement of both our rights and obligations as an EU member state."

Britain has less than two years to negotiate the terms of its exit from the EU — an unprecedented untangling of more than 40 years of legal, economic and political ties.

The spokesman would not be drawn into commenting on whether Britain and the EU were expecting to come up with a firm figure for the exit bill at this stage in the talks, or a less precise agreement covering the rules that would be used to calculate it.

The bill is expected to be made up of money Britain has already committed to the multi-year EU budget, ongoing financial risks it agreed during its membership to help cover and a contribution to the pension scheme for EU officials.

The size of the bill will depend heavily on the shape of Britain’s transitional agreement and whether it is a staggered exit process during which the government pays into EU regulatory schemes while domestic ones are established.

Britain has yet to set out what kind of transitional deal it is seeking, making estimates of the final bill difficult to calculate. As well as finding a deal that satisfies both an EU establishment keen to deter other members from trying to leave and the strained purse strings of the British budget, May must also reach an amount her political party is prepared to swallow.

Some Eurosceptics in her party argue Britain should not have to pay anything and any settlement perceived to be generous to Brussels could prompt a revolt in Conservative ranks. After May lost her majority in a election earlier in 2017, a rebellion of more than a dozen or so Conservatives would endanger her chances of getting the Brexit deal approved.

Reuters

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