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Downing Street says talk of £36bn Brexit divorce bill is 'wrong'

Mark Dorman
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and UK Brexit Secretary David Davis have differing views on the progress of talks (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Downing Street has poured cold water on claims the UK is prepared to pay a Brexit ‘divorce bill’ of at least £36bn.

Sources claimed over the weekend that the figure – about €10bn a year for three years after Brexit – was being proposed as a way of kickstarting the stalled talks.

Michel Barnier, the EU lead negotiator, has said that little concrete can be achieved without it.

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However, a No.10 official has today insisted “no such figure has been agreed”.

Another source, quoted in The Independent, said reports that the government was preparing to offer the EU payments were “highly speculative and wrong”.

The statements come amid renewed speculation that the talks, which began a couple of months ago, have been making little progress as members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet are at loggerheads.

Sir Simon Fraser, former head of the diplomatic service at the Foreign Office until 2015, said he feared divisions within the cabinet were hampering Britain’s negotiating position.

“The negotiations have only just begun, I don’t think they have begun particularly promisingly, frankly, on the British side,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday night.

“We haven’t put forward a lot because, as we know, there are differences within the cabinet about the sort of Brexit that we are heading for and until those differences are further resolved I think it’s very difficult for us to have a clear position.”

“I think so far we haven’t put much on the table apart from something on the status of nationals, so we are a bit absent from the formal negotiation,” he said.

Sir Simon said it was imperative the UK set out clear positions on various key issues such as the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

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Many pro-Brexit Tory MPs have expressed their dismay and anger at Britain offering any kind of settlement.

Just last month, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said EU leaders could “go whistle” if they expected Britain to pay an “exorbitant” divorce bill.

Fellow Conservative Peter Bone said it would be “bizarre” if the UK was to pay to leave the EU, given the whole issue of the referendum was to stop sending money to Brussels.

“So if there was going to be any transfer of money then it should be from the EU to the UK,” he added.

And Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, said: “There is no logic to this figure, legally we owe nothing.”