Brexit: ‘Divorce bill’ row erupts as UK dismisses EU’s claim it must pay billions more than was estimated

A new Brexit row has erupted over how much the UK owes the EU as part of its “divorce bill”. The EU’s latest accounts suggest the UK must pay billions more than was initially expected – EUR47.5bn (GBP40.8bn). But Downing Street firmly rejected the revised net figure on Friday, insisting that the departure sum remains within the range of previous targets of between GBP35bn and GBP39bn.

Image: Downing Street said the PM does not recognise the new figure listed by the EU

A No 10 spokesperson pledged to provide more details on the matter to parliament in the next few weeks. “We don’t recognise that figure, it’s an estimate produced by the EU for its own internal accounting purposes,” they said. “For example, it doesn’t reflect all the money owed back to the UK, which reduces the amount we pay.

“Our estimate remains in the central range of between GBP35 and GBP39 billion and we will publish full details in parliament shortly.” The bill covers spending commitments made during the UK’s almost 50-year membership of the EU.

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Both parties agreed how the amount would be calculated as part of the negotiations over the Withdrawal Agreement which allowed the UK to leave the EU. However, whilst the methodology was confirmed, an exact figure was not.

Brexit: 'Divorce bill' row erupts as UK dismisses EU's claim it must pay billions more than was estimatedImage: The European Commission, headed by Ursula von der Leyen say the revised figure is correct

In 2018, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimated the so-called “divorce bill” would cost the UK government GBP37.1bn – but the figure which emerged in Brussels’ latest accounts suggest the UK are in debt of at least GBP3bn more.

The EU say the revised figure is “correct”. “The report is final and the calculations were made in line with the withdrawal agreement,” said a spokesman. “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.

“Therefore, we have absolutely no indications at this point in time that the bill, or the amount that we’ve calculated will be contested.” The UK left the EU at the end of 31 January 2020. This began a transition period that ended at 11pm on 31 December 2020.

The EU’s accounts for 2020 state the UK owes the EU EUR6.8bn (GBP5.8bn) this year.