Reports suggest British negotiators have accepted gross liabilities to the EU totalling €100bn (£89bn), but that net payments would be around half that figure.
A settlement of £49bn would leave the sensitive issue of the Irish border as the only roadblock to approval for trade talks to begin, with a week remaining until a December 4 deadline ahead of next month’s European Council meeting.
However, it would also expose Theresa May’s government, which initially suggested a settlement figure of £20bn, to attacks from Brexit supporters in her own party.
The news came as Brexit secretary David Davis faced formal censure for holding the House of Commons in contempt after handing MPs an 850-page dossier on the economic impact of Brexit that critics claimed does “not contain any actual impact analysis”.
A complaint was sent to the Commons speaker by SNP MP Pete Wishart after Mr Davis’ department insisted that documents promised to MPs and Scottish ministers had to be redacted. The study of 58 economic sectors delivered on Monday night does not contain any sensitive economic data, prompting the chairman of the Commons Exiting the EU Committee to summon Mr Davis to an urgent meeting.
The Brexit secretary was forced to release the information to the committee following a House of Commons motion, and the Scottish Secretary David Mundell also said it would be shared with the Scottish Government.
However, Scottish Brexit minister Michael Russell complained that the dossier contains no impact analysis, and called on the UK government to “be up front with people and publish these reports immediately”.
The Department for Exiting the EU (Dexeu) says the full information could not be disclosed because of its commercial sensitivity and potential to undermine talks in Brussels, and Mr Davis was backed by Number 10.
MPs reacted with anger when junior Brexit department minister Robin Walker was sent to respond to an urgent question yesterday from shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer. There were cries of “Where is he?” as Mr Walker rose to speak.
Sir Keir said: “Whether [Mr Davis] is in contempt of Parliament is a matter we will come to at a later date, but he is certainly treating parliament with contempt.”