No 'UK rebate' in Brexit talks: German minister

German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel makes a statement at the foreign ministry in Berlin on March 29, 2017 after Britain triggered Brexit

Britain should not expect a "UK rebate" from the EU in talks over its exit from the bloc, Germany's foreign minister said Thursday, in reference to a budget discount won by then-PM Margaret Thatcher.

The priority of the EU's remaining 27 member states would be to protect their social and economic interests, Sigmar Gabriel told German parliament, a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May launched the two-year negotiation process to quit the bloc.

"In all these, there will be no UK rebate," Gabriel stressed, in a reference to a reduction in Britain's contribution to the EU budget in place since 1985.

Thatcher had obtained the substantial rebate -- equivalent to two-thirds of Britain's net contribution in the previous year -- after threatening to halt payments to the bloc's budget.

With a potential row now building up over Britain's so-called "exit bill", estimated to be as much as 60 billion euros ($64 billion, £52 billion), Gabriel also reminded Britain that it is obliged to meet its financial commitments to the EU.

At the same time, Gabriel noted that the divorce settlement talks should not lead to a "totally hostile relationship" between the two sides.

"We must stay friends," he said.

As EU leaders squared up for tough negotiations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday rebuffed May's call for exit talks to run alongside negotiations on future ties between the EU and Britain.

French President Francois Hollande on Thursday presented a common front with Merkel, insisting that details about the UK's withdrawal had to be agreed on first.