Britain and the EU have reached agreement on a Brexit divorce bill that could see the UK having to find more than £50bn to quit the EU, three reports from Brussels have said.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday the cost of the settlement will be between £42bn and £52bn, and an agreement-in-principle was reached last week.
This was followed by a Guardian report, also citing sources from Brussels, suggesting the final figure could reach £57bn.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times claimed the UK will assume EU liabilities worth up to £89bn - but the figure is to be massaged down to between £35bn and £40bn.
It appears the figures being briefed are deliberately being left open to interpretation, but what appears consistent is that negotiators on both sides have come to an agreement.
Theresa May, who flew to Jordan on Tuesday evening for a tour of the Middle East, remained tight-lipped on the reports. Last night her aides would only tell reporters that “negotiations are ongoing”.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling told the Today programme there was “a lot of speculation about numbers” but refused to confirm any figure.
“I think we will leave that for the negotiations when they are going to take place at the European Council,” he said.
“We have been very clear we will meet our obligations as we leave...but we don’t want to walk away on bad terms.
“Our goal is to be good friends and good neighbours with the European Union and to trade freely with the European Union and carry on as friends.”
Asked if he would be comfortable with the price of such a relationship being £50bn, Grayling - a keen Brexiteer - said: “The price is meeting the obligations that we have built up - no more, no less than that.”
That agreement is crucial as it would signal that the UK and the EU are moving much closer to a deal at a December summit that would allow them to move onto discussions of post-Brexit trade.
While the figures are lower than what Brussels has demanded, Downing Street has previously dismissed the idea of paying up to £36bn.
Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable said:
“If these numbers are correct, it means we’re paying a heavy price to leave an institution that has benefitted the country for decades.
“The Brexiters said we’d get £350m a week for the NHS, instead we face a financially damaging divorce settlement.
“The true cost of Brexit is becoming clearer by the day.
“This underlines why people should have a referendum on the final deal with the option of an Exit from Brexit.”
Reuters reported the European Commission declining to comment on the report but a British government official said he did “not recognise” the newspaper’s account.
In any case, the pound rallied around 1 percent against the US dollar on the first report, though they soon flattened.
The includes the UK’s liabilities as a member state, including the seven-year budget ending in 2020, pension costs and outstanding loans.
Neither Brexiteers nor Remainers could find much cheer in the reports.
Nigel Farage told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Wednesday that the government was “selling out” over the divorce bill.
“They owe us money, we morally owe them money. Let’s call it quits. It’s time for us to simply walk away,” the former UKIP leader added.
The two sides already believe they are quite close on agreeing the scope of rights for expatriate citizens in Britain and on the continent.
May is due to meet President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday.
The EU says any British move needs to come by around that date if leaders meeting at the December summit are to be able to endorse a move to a new phase of talks, to include future trade relations.
A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “Intensive talks between the UK and the European Commission continue to take place in Brussels this week as we seek to reach an agreement.
“We are exploring how we can continue to build on recent momentum in the talks so that together we can move the negotiations on to the next phase and discuss our future partnership.”