Downing Street has dismissed the idea of paying a Brexit divorce bill of up to €40bn (£36bn), as leading supporters of leaving the EU said they would not accept handing over such a large sum.
Theresa May was reported on Sunday to be willing to pay that amount as the price for getting on with trade talks and an exit deal.
The sum would be a compromise, because Brussels has demanded about €60bn. The €40bn figure would still be the equivalent of several years of contributions to the EU budget, which would continue to be paid after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
A Downing Street source, however, said the figure, which was mentioned by Brussels sources quoted in the Sunday Telegraph, was “inaccurate speculation”, playing down the idea that such a high bill would be acceptable to the government or Brexit voters.
The issue of payments to the EU is a huge political problem for No 10, partly because the Brexit campaign mentioned recouping £350m a week from Brussels to put towards the NHS.
At the same time, the EU will not progress to the next stage of talks on the future relationship until it deems that “sufficient progress” has been made on the financial settlement.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, told diplomats last month that the next step may be pushed back to December because Britain is stalling on the bill.