Paris (AFP) - Britain needs to settle its bill with the EU before beginning talks on a post-Brexit trade deal, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said, declaring: "We want our money back".
In an interview with France's CNews channel on Tuesday evening, Le Maire said it was time for Britain -- which is wrangling with Brussels over the size of its divorce bill, among other issues -- to pay up.
Echoing former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who launched a successful battle to reduce Britain's payments to the then European Economic Community in 1980 by declaring: "I want my money back", Le Maire said: "We, Europeans, say to the British: 'We want our money back'."
He accused Britain of trying to shirk the commitments it made to the EU's budget.
"It's as if you went to a restaurant, ordered a meal, began eating and then walked out in the middle of the meal, saying: 'I'm not going to pay after all'. That's not possible," he said.
The EU reportedly estimates the cost for Britain to leave the union is between 60 billion and 100 billion euros ($70.7 billion to $118 billion).
Britain's The Times newspaper reported that Prime Minister Theresa May was prepared to pay 45 billion euros -- which her government has denied.
Le Maire backed EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who said Tuesday that the two sides had not made enough progress in their divorce talks to begin discussing a new relationship.
"Let's find an agreement on the financial settlement, even if it's not down to the exact euro, and then we can launch the next stages," he said.