Brexit block: EU official says €25bn debt means UK can’t leave

A European Union flag is held in front of the Big Ben clock tower in Parliament Square, London. Paul Hackett
Britain will have to pay the European Union a hefty sum if it is to follow through with Brexit, with claims that an estimated €25 billion is owed to the bloc in unpaid bills.

An outstanding total of €200 billion (£170 billion, $221 billion) has been shifted around by the EU for years, under what Brussels’ mandarins call the “reste à liquider.”

An unnamed senior EU official told German finance website WirtschaftsWoche the British slice of the debt would not be simply written off if Westminster invokes the much debated EU exit clause, Article 50.

“A deal with Great Britain is unthinkable until the Brits settle this liability,” said the source.

However, in the European Commission some lawyers believe the amount would default once Brexit takes place.

Britain reportedly contributes around £136 million a week to the common European pot. Between 2016 and 2020 the total contribution would amount to £45.3 billion, according to the Guardian.

But it was not quite that easy to calculate how much each member state owed the joint account, a European Commission spokeswoman told the paper.

“Outstanding commitments are not debt. No member state has outstanding debts to the EU budget,” she said.

A Whitehall representative echoed the sentiment.

“We are about to begin these negotiations and it would be wrong to set out unilateral positions in advance. Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it.”