Despite having paid far more into the EU budget than it has taken out over decades of membership in the bloc and its predecessor bodies, the European Community (EC) and European Economic Community (EEC), the British government under both Boris Johnson and predecessor Theresa May agreed to pay Brussels what has been characterised as a “divorce” settlement, covering pre-Brexit spending commitments and pension contributions for EU staffers.
Britain’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimated the bill at £37.1bn in 2017, according to Sky News, but an exact figure was not agreed with the bloc, only a method for calculating it — and, in its latest accounts, Brussels has raised its expected sum to €47.5bn — £40.8bn.
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“We have already informed the UK government about the payments that they have to do with regard to the first part of this year and they’ve already in fact paid part of the amount concerned,” a European Commission spokesman pronounced haughtily in comments quoted by the BBC.
“Therefore, we have absolutely no indications at this point in time that the bill, or the amount that we’ve calculated will be contested,” they added, insisting that the bloc’s high estimate is “correct”.
10 Downing Street, however, is saying that it does not “recognise that figure” and characterising it as “an estimate produced by the EU for its own internal accounting purposes.”
“For example it doesn’t reflect all the money owed back to the UK which reduces the amount we pay,” a spokesman suggested.
“Our estimate remains in the central range of between £35-39bn and we will publish full details in Parliament shortly.”
It was never clear why the British government, led by Remain voters in the immediate aftermath of the people’s vote to Leave the European Union and the early stages of negotiations, agreed to pay the EU a divorce bill, given Brussels did not offer to return Britain control over its territorial fishing waters or strike a free trade agreement covering goods and services in exchange.
Some eurosceptic politicians have been prediciting that the bill would rise significantly from the advertised £39 billion from the word go, however, such as David Jones MP, a former government minister for Brexit.
He warned in 2017 that “the [divorce] deal document contains no… precise figure,” but merely “a set of highly technical mechanisms we would have to follow to work out the eventual Brexit cost to the UK. And those mechanisms could land us with a bill, on some estimates, of as much as £100 billion – a figure EU sources were touting earlier [in 2017].”
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