David Davis has denied Theresa May is preparing to approve a Brexit ”divorce bill” of €50bn, saying UK negotiators would not allow time pressures to force Britain into paying vast sums.
The Brexit secretary insisted there was no legal obligation for the UK to pay sums for EU projects after leaving the bloc, even those approved while the UK was a member, but conceded there were “moral or political” reasons to reach a financial settlement.
No 10 sources also denied May was preparing to agree a bill of around £46bn at current exchange rates, which the Sunday Times reported was set to be announced after the Conservative party conference. Under Whitehall plans,the UK would pay between £7bn and £17bn a year to Brussels for three years after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019, the paper said.
Davis said the story was “nonsense … completely wrong” and that the UK position was not yet settled. “They have set this up because they are trying to play time against money,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, though he declined to repeat the international trade secretary Liam Fox’s description of the negotiations as blackmail.
“Time is not running out. We have a two-year process,” he said. “Every time we come to something serious there will be a pressure exercise of this sort. Money is incredibly important, it is the thing that frightens them most.”
Davis’s remarks came after a bruising press conference in Brussels after the latest round of talks with the EU, during which its chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there had been “no concrete progress”.