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UK doesn’t send EU £350m a week or £55m a day

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 25.02.2016

A favourite eurosceptic myth is that Britain sends £350 million a week or £55 million a day to Brussels. Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan, Priti Patel and Vote Leave are just some of the people and organisations that have spouted these inaccurate figures.

Until now, they have been able to hide behind Full Fact, the fact-checking website. It produced research in 2014 saying ‘it’s reasonable to describe £55 million as our ‘membership fee’, but it ignores the fact that we get money back as well”. If you put £55 million a day into Google, its research is the top result. But, after InFacts pointed out errors in its calculation, Full Fact corrected their piece.

In 2015, Britain actually sent £250 million a week to the EU. After accounting for the money the Brussels sent back to Britain and EU spending we include in our foreign aid target, the net cost was £120 million a week or £17 million a day. Per person, that’s 26p a day – or half the price of a Mars bar.

This is a fraction of the benefits we have got from being part of the EU’s single market. And remember that if we wanted to leave the EU but stay in the single market, like Norway, we’d most likely still have to pay a membership fee. Norway’s net payment per person is about the same as ours.

The rebate never goes to Brussels

Last year our notional contribution to the EU was £17.8 billion (£340 million a week). But the UK gets a rebate, which is deducted from our payments. Margaret Thatcher fought hard for this rebate when she was prime minister. It is never sent to Brussels.

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Our 2015 rebate was about £4.9 billion, so we actually sent Brussels £12.9 billion or just under £250 million a week. Funny how eurosceptics, for most of whom Thatcher is a hero, have forgotten one of her best known achievements.

The EU sends money back

But describing £250 million a week as the “cost” of being in the EU would be misleading. Last year the EU sent the British government £4.4 billion to spend in the UK, mainly on farming and regional aid. It also gives money directly to the private sector, in particular for research. In 2013, the last year for which the government has published figures, this amounted to £1.4 billion.

Moreover, we are committed to spend 0.7% of our national income on official aid for developing countries. When we calculate our total spending, we include our share of EU aid – £816 million in 2014.

We would likely maintain our support for agriculture, the regions, science and developing countries after a Brexit. The amount the Treasury actually pays for membership is £6.3 billion a year. That’s £17m a day, or 26p each – half the price of a Mars bar.

We wouldn’t save that much if we left. If we wanted privileged access to the EU market along the lines of that enjoyed by Norway, we would have to pay for it. The net payment Norway makes for its arrangement is about the same as ours per person.

But if we didn’t have full access, any savings on contributions could well be wiped out by economic turmoil. Far from adding to the Chancellor’s piggy bank, a Brexit could deplete the government’s financial resources.

Full Fact has issued a timely correction to its research, and will no longer provide intellectual cover for the £55 million a day figure. It’s time for eurosceptics to stop using it too.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

This piece has been updated to reflect the fact that Full Fact never unequivocally endorsed the £55 million a day figure.

This article was updated on April 7 to explain more fully why quitting the EU may not save the government any money, and to express the cost of membership on a per person basis.

28 Responses to “UK doesn’t send EU £350m a week or £55m a day”

  • Would be interesting to know what percentage this EU expenditure represents out of the total yearly UK budget – less than 1%? In this sense, it seems hardly worth so much emphasis. More like pocket money in terms of the overall budget.

      • What a relief. So it’s only 120 million a week to an organization which has never been able to clear its books. Nobody knows where the money goes. Get out. If the UK stays in it will be Civil War down the road. The EU is undemocratic, corrupt and run by elitist snobs who make Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette look like commoners. It is the most disgusting organisation on the planet and needs to die sooner rather than later.

  • Do you know any research that can quantify if funds given by EU to other EU countries is invested in/comes to UK. For example, a Danish industry is given EU funding and a British company wins a tender to carry out work paid for by EU funding.

  • Why is it a good idea to send such vast sums to the EU when clearly they could be better used in this country for matters nearer to our home and hearts???

  • How pathetic do you have to be to not want to govern yourself and instead be governed by foreigners in Brussels? Yes we may get money back from our EU membership but it’s our money anyway, we won’t have to send any money if we left.

    Do you EU lovers really think we would lose any sort of trade if we were to leave the EU? If anything we would be able to gain more trade by dealing with the world and not just through the EU and create our own trade deals with countries.

    We are slowly and legally signing more and more ownership of our country away to the EU and unless we leave we will have no control whatsoever in years to come. Leaving the EU and taking control of our borders so we will welcome everyone throughout the world and not just favour those from the EU. Why should we welcome some criminal from some European country

    • Rather than a qualified doctor from India say, who will benefit our country more. We shouldn’t have an open door policy with immigration. It’s dangerous and will one day bite us in the backside, you wouldn’t leave your front door open of your house and let anyone walk in so we shouldn’t have that for our country. Clearly shows how unpatriotic those who would rather be governed by Brussels are.

    • Oh Aaron you make a rod for your own back ! It’s our money. ..that comes back…..yes up to a point. One of the largest groups receiving our money this way are the farmers. They all seem to agree that they prefer to get money via the EU than struggle with Whitehall ministries ! They know how the Treasury just loves to hand out what it sees as subsidies. So Brussels acts as a device to get our government to behave better. Ask Cornwall if it would do better with regional aid from Whitehall ! A big fat no is the answer.

      • Was speaking to a farmer yesterday who can’t wait to get back to the old way of farming subsidies when he had more help with a lot less paperwork and could farm the way he thought best.

  • I would love to govern myself but I didn’t vote for my MP, I didn’t vote for my government, I didn’t vote for any of the members of the House of Lords and I didn’t vote for my Head of State. UK democracy is an illusion and you are being manipulated if you use sovereignty as a reason to leave the EU without wanting to dramatically change UK political system too.

    • If you mean that you didn’t vote at all, then shame on you. If on the other hand you found yourself in the minority, then you’ve simply taken part in a democratic process. You may not have won, but your vote did count. Your MP knows he is being held to account, and he knows that he did not achieve the 100% support he would have desired. He knows he may not win next time and that’s the point of our democracy. The EU offers us none of that accountability and probably never will.

      • A regular argument for exit (repressed xenophobia aside) is that the EU is unaccountable. Er, what about MEP’s then?
        You can vote for them and they influence decisions that are made.

        • I accept that is true, but I did’t think it worth mentioning because our MEPs influence is only 4%-9% so it’s not the sort of accountability that faces our own government.

  • It’s perhaps worth noting that we are subject to numerous non-EU treaties and Conventions, notably the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits deporting people to countries where there’s a reasonable expectation they’ll be tortured or tried using evidence obtained under torture. The ECHR and HRA both contain implementations of this Convention, which deal with it at more local levels.

    Oh, and talking of the ECHR, it’s not an instrument of the EU but an older (1949) and larger (47 Member States including Russia and Ukraine) club – the Council of Europe.

    The ECHR was also largely drafted by British lawyers, while the HRA already allows British judges to issue rulings that ignore the ECHR if they believe that following the ECHR would be contrary to British law / practice. We can also ignore inconvenient rulings e.g. their judgement against a blanket ban on voting applying to all prisoners.

    Conversely, there has been speculation that Cameron’s British Bill of Rights would include minimum thresholds to ensure “only the most serious” cases would get anywhere near a court (so if implemented, only paying lip service to human rights legislation).

  • Curious to know how much of the money which ‘comes back’ to the UK requires matched funding from UK public or private sector sources?

  • I have ended up here following a leaflet put through my door titled “The UK and the European Union: THE FACTS”

    I initially thought it was just that, but three “Facts” in I was getting deeply suspicious about the bias in the facts.

    One of these “Facts” was the £350m figure that has been debunked here.

    It was only when I read the smallest of small print at the back of the leaflet that I found it had been sent by Vote Leave.

    Are such entities allowed to send communication such as this without making it clear whom is the sender?

    • I had one of these ‘information’ sheets. It talked of facts and gave kipper opinions. I filled it in with a stupid address and sent it back so that they get charged postage. It will also give work for the Lithuanians that I believe they use to run their show

  • 26p for a Mars bar..where exactly? most of them are at 60p if not more.. I wouldn’t trust any of the figures mentioned on that basis alone

  • Those figures are completely inaccurate, if you want real facts then look to the work of Professor Patrick Minford, he gives clear evidence as to why we would be better out of the European Union (we are part of Europe).
    Most of the in/out blogs aren’t factual, you owe it to yourself and country to reveal the accurate facts on this very important vote

  • Germany and the UK are the only 2 countries that pay positively into the EU all the others take. Big businesses/bankers make money but very few others do. Do your own independent research because when it comes to the truth the ‘in/outs’ shake it all about.

  • Yes but what does it cost us in extra NHS treatments for non tax people.
    Overloaded schools .
    Housing overloads.
    These sort of things are hidden costs of having too many people in a relatively small island. Not to mention having criminals mixing freely here and not being able to send them back.

    EU regulations that stifle initiative in small businesses.

    It goes on and on the drawbacks.
    Its not all about money.