The European Commission has refused to discuss the size of the “exit bill” to be handed to the UK when it withdraws from the EU, amid reports the demand has been fixed at around £48 billion.
National media outlets reported a figure of €57bn (£48bn) was agreed at a meeting chaired by the Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier earlier this week, at which representatives of the European Parliament, the Council Secretariat and the 27 remaining member states also agreed that trade negotiations can start only after reaching agreement on the exit bill.
But Commission officials insisted they would not discuss numbers publicly at this point, saying only the technical work to determine the UK’s liabilities was “ongoing” and was based on “objective and verifiable” data.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has dismissed the idea Britain should pay an exit bill on withdrawal from the EU as “absurd”.
But Brussels officials insist the UK will remain liable for its share of spending on European projects to which it committed during its membership, as well as the ongoing bill for staff pensions.
Earlier reports have suggested a demand of between 50-60 billion euro was being considered.
It is not thought Monday’s meeting settled on a precise final figure.
A Commission spokesman said: “On February 6 2017, Michel Barnier chaired a technical seminar with the EU 27 member states, the European Parliament and the secretariat of the council of the EU.
“The aim of the meeting was to create a common understanding of the key issues that need to be included in an orderly withdrawal agreement.
“It is no surprise that budget experts in the Commission and other EU institutions are making calculations in view of the UK referendum result and the upcoming Article 50 negotiations.
“Technical work is ongoing and is based on objective and verifiable data.
“We are not discussing numbers publicly in this context.”
Discussing the meeting earlier this week, chief Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said for Britain to quit the EU without settling its bills would be like leaving a bar without paying for your drinks.
“During the time of its membership, the UK has taken - and probably will take - financial commitments,” said Mr Schinas on Tuesday.
“Those commitments should be honoured in full.
“This will be an essential element of the negotiations on the orderly separation.
“It is like going to the pub with 27 friends.
“You order a round of beer, but then you can’t leave while the party continues.
“You still need to pay for the round you ordered.”