Britain’s Brexit divorce bill will be “nothing like” the tens of billions of pounds in liabilities floated by EU officials and widely reported in the press, David Davis has said.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union suggested Britain might pay nothing when it left the EU and said he had seen “no explanation” for any figure cited anywhere else.
It was reported in February that European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier would demand £48 billion in liabilities from David Davis and his UK negotiating team.
The figure, supposedly agreed at a meeting of member states, reflects commitments Britain has made on EU-wide projects until 2020, as well as the pensions of officials. The one-off payment is separate from any ongoing contribution the UK might make to the EU budget for access to trade markets.
But Mr Davis said on Monday night: “I don’t know about £50 billion, I’ve seen £40 billion, £50 billion, £60 billion, I’ve seen no explanation for any of them.
“The Prime Minister said we are coming to the end of the time when we’re paying enormous sums into the European Union. We’ll of course meet our international obligations but we expect also our rights to be respected too. I don’t think we’re going to be seeing that sort of money change hands.
“We have said before that we will meet our international obligations, whatever that turns out to be. BU that is nothing like what we’re talking about here – indeed the House of Lords committee on this subject reckoned that that was was zero only a few weeks ago.”
Asked whether he actually believed the payment could be zero, he said: “Wait and see, I’m not going to do the negotiation on your programme.”
The Brexit Secretary made the comments on a special edition of the BBC’s Question Time programme which was specifically focused on Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Speaking on the same programme, shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said reneging on Britain's responsibilities could have negative consequences for its ability to negotiate future trade deals.
"I say that we shouldn’t be bandying figures around, we should agree that there will be principles that decide how much it is and once they’re agreed of course we must honour our negotiations," he said.
"Anybody who says otherwise just needs to think about our future. We want a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. Well, are we going to get that if we’re breaching the rules as we leave?
"The Government wants free trade agreements with other countries across the world? If we’re going to be taken seriously in future negotiations for the future of our country we cannot do that in breach of obligations that we’ve already got.
The Labour MP said he was “not committing to a figure” but that it should be kept “as low as possible” .
The row comes just 36 hours ahead of Theresa May’s planned triggering of Article 50, which will start the two-year process of Britain negotiating an exit package from the European Union.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies