Theresa May does “not recognise” reports that the United Kingdom will pay the European Union £36bn as part of a so-called Brexit bill as it leaves the block, Downing Street has said.
The sum of money the UK will pay to settle its debts has been one of the main stumbling blocks in Brexit negotiations between the government and Brussels.
It was reported over the weekend that May would be willing to pay the money in order to help secure a free trade agreement with the EU after the UK exits in March 2019.
However No.10 said today the precise figure that has been floated was not necessarily the correct number.
“In terms of this figure I don’t recognise it,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.
It comes as Sir Simon Fraser, the former top civil servant at the Foreign Office until 2015, said the government did not appear to have a “clear position” on Brexit.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Westminster Hour, he said: “The negotiations have only just begun, I don’t think they have begun particularly promisingly, frankly, on the British side.”
But No.10 rejected his warning and said the government had conducted a “constructive start to the negotiations”.
Tory eurosceptics do not want the UK to pay any money. Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, said: “There is no logic to this figure, legally we owe nothing.”
But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has said while Brexit “might be expensive” for the UK, the money was ”simply settling accounts”.
“It’s not a ransom. It’s not an exit bill. It’s not a punishment. It’s not a revenge,” he said last month.
Last week the Brexit department said Boris Johnson had been wrong to suggest the government had no plans for what to do if the UK fails to strike a new trade deal with the EU.