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Theresa May signals she will fight any EU demands for Brexit 'divorce bill'

Theresa May has signalled she will fight against any European Union demands for a Brexit "divorce bill" which could potentially run to tens of billions of pounds.

The Prime Minister said the British people did not vote to leave the EU in order to keep paying large sums of money into the Brussels budget.

But her insistence comes after EU figures again put pressure on the UK over having to agree an exit settlement, which reportedly could rise to 60 billion euro (£52 billion), potentially before talks on a new trading relationship can begin.

Answering questions at a press conference at the European Council summit in Brussels, Mrs May said: " I'm clear that the way people voted on June 23 for us to leave the European Union, they voted for us in the future not paying huge sums of money into the European Union every year.

"And of course when we leave the EU that will be the case."

Mrs May indicated that Britain will argue against any suggestion that it must agree a divorce settlement before negotiations on a new trade deal can begin, by arguing that Article 50 of the EU treaties states that both should be carried out at the same time.

She also reiterated her aim of striking a trade deal with the EU within the two-year negotiating period .

It came after Danish foreign minister Anders Samuelsen told Bloomberg: "The question is, can we do it in two years or will we take 15 years? We don't know".

Responding to the comments, Mrs May said : "Obviously the treaty sets out that in looking when... countries leave the European Union, the process, which as Article 50 sets out, is for the withdrawal but also setting the framework for the future relationship actually should take the two years.

"That is the timetable that we're working to and that is the timetable that the European Union is working to."

Mrs May's comments come after Irish premier Enda Kenny indicated he would back demands for Britain to pay an exit bill to honour outstanding commitments to the EU as it leaves.

The European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier refused to comment on the prospect of the UK paying billions into the EU budget as he arrived at the summit.

But he later revealed that he agreed a "common position" on the budget with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, who will hold the rotating EU presidency for the first half of 2018 - potentially a crucial period in negotiations.

Mr Barnier is seen as a key proponent of the idea that an exit settlement must be reached before talks on a new deal can begin.

Mr Kenny meanwhile told reporters as he arrived at the summit : "When you sign on for a contract you commit yourself to participation.

"And obviously the extent of that level of money will be determined.

"Mr Barnier is the lead negotiator for the European Union and obviously Britain will have a say.

"But that no more than any other problem will have to be faced, it will have to be dealt with and it will be dealt with."

Mr Kenny also warned that Ireland has the capacity to compete and take business from London as banks and finance firms uncertain about the future UK-EU trading relationship make decisions to move all or part of their operations outside Britain.

"We'll compete fairly for business, quite a substantial number of financial institutions or banks intend to make decisions to either move, or move sections or sectors of their business out of London," he said.

"Ireland will compete and compete fairly for that and I am absolutely convinced that we will win substantial business when those decisions are made."

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