LONDON – Britain is prepared to pay up to €40 billion ($47 billion) as part of a deal to leave the European Union, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported, citing three unnamed sources familiar with Britain’s negotiating strategy.
The EU has floated a figure of €60 billion and wants significant progress on settling Britain’s liabilities before talks start on issues such as future trading arrangements.
The government department responsible for Brexit talks declined to comment on the article. So far, Britain has given no official indication of how much it will be willing to pay.
The newspaper said British officials were likely to offer to pay €10 billion ($11.7 billion) a year for three years after leaving the EU in March 2019, then finalize the total alongside detailed trade talks.
Payments will only be made as part of a deal that includes a trade agreement, the newspaper added.
“We know (the EU’s) position is €60 billion, but the actual bottom line is €50 billion. Ours is closer to €30 billion but the actual landing zone is €40 billion, even if the public and politicians are not all there yet,” the newspaper quoted one “senior Whitehall source” as saying.
Whitehall is the London district where most British government departments and ministers are based.
A second Whitehall source said Britain’s bottom line was “€30 billion to €40 billion” ($35 billion to $47 billion) and a third source said Prime Minister Theresa May is willing to pay “north of €30 billion,” the Sunday Telegraph reported.
Britain’s Brexit minister, David Davis, said on July 20 that Britain will honor its obligations to the EU but declined to confirm that Brexit will require net payments.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Brexit advocate, said last month the EU could “go whistle” if it makes “extortionate” demands for payment.
Pro-Brexit campaign group Leave Means Leave said speculation about a divorce bill is “unhelpful.”
“With the EU Brexit negotiations, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” said the groups’ co-chair, Richard Tice.
“The focus should be on accelerating talks with the aim of concluding them at the end of 2017. This would enable businesses to adapt during the 15 months leading to March 2019.”
The Telegraph said advisers in May’s office had warned bosses in London’s financial sector that Britain walking out of Brexit talks is a “real possibility” if the impasse over the bill cannot be broken.
Former European Commission head Romano Prodi told the Observer newspaper said it would be economic “suicide” for Britain to fail to reach a compromise on Brexit, and called on the EU to preserve as much trade with Britain as possible to avoid damaging both sides.
If Britain cannot conclude an exit deal, trade relations would be governed by World Trade Organization rules, which would allow both parties to impose tariffs and customs checks and leave many other issues unsettled.
Last week the Bank of England said Brexit uncertainty is weighing on the economy. Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Philip Hammond wants to avoid unsettling businesses further.
The EU has also said it wants agreement by October on rights of EU citizens already in Britain, and on border controls between the Irish Republic and the British province of Northern Ireland, before trade and other issues are discussed.