March 7, 2017 / 7:01 PM / 3 years ago

Exclusive - EU cannot yet say how much UK should pay on Brexit: auditor

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union cannot yet assess how much Britain should be asked to pay Brussels when it quits the bloc, as much will have to be settled by negotiation, the EU’s chief auditor has told European lawmakers.

A European Union flag is waved in front of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

In a letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday, the president of the European Court of Auditors (ECA), Klaus-Heiner Lehne, put liabilities to be covered by future budgets that are mostly funded by member states at 344 billion euros (298.08 billion pounds). But he declined to calculate how much Britain’s share of that EU figure should be.

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EU officials preparing to negotiate a Brexit treaty once Prime Minister Theresa May files for a formal divorce this month cite a working hypothesis that London may have to pay up to 60 billion euros to cover outstanding commitments before leaving in 2019. That is close to 17 percent of the ECA’s total EU figure and so is similar to Britain’s share of the whole EU economy.

However, Lehne, a former EU lawmaker from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right party, said the British share could only be worked out after the Brexit negotiations.

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“Regarding an evaluation of the proportion of the figures that would correspond to the UK,” he told European Parliament budget committee chair Ingeborg Graessle in a written reply to questions from the committee.

“We are currently not in a position to answer as any calculation would depend on numerous assumptions, which may be part of any discussions that ensue.”

An ECA spokesman declined comment on the letter, which among other details showed a need for 64 billion euros over time to cover pension and other benefits due to EU employees.

EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker warned Britain last month that it faced a “very hefty bill” on leaving.

With last year’s vote for Brexit fuelled in part by arguments over the roughly 10-billion-euro a year cost of Britain’s EU membership, London is expect to argue for paying as little as possible.

Brussels officials have said their priority this year is to agree at least how the final calculation will be made — leaving exact figures to be worked out only at the end.

Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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