Myth: UK sends Brussels £350m a week
InFact: Vote Leave is lying when it says we send £350 million a week to the EU. This figure ignores the discount on our budget contribution – the “rebate” – that Margaret Thatcher secured. This is never sent to the EU. What’s more, if we quit, the economy would be hit, leaving us less money not more.
The Leave camp keep saying we send £350 million a week – or £19 billion a year or £50 million a day – to Brussels. This inaccurate figure is plastered on Vote Leave’s battle bus and tossed around freely by Brexiteers including Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage.
They persist with this falsehood despite warnings from the chair of the UK Statistics Authority that it is “misleading” and a statement by the Office for National Statistics that this money is “never actually transferred to the EU.”
The real numbers are as follows. In 2015, Britain sent £250 million a week to the EU. The £100 million difference with Vote Leave’s figure reflects the Thatcher rebate, which is deducted before any British money is sent off to Brussels.
But it would also be wrong to describe £250 million as the cost of our EU membership. Last year Brussels 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.
After subtracting these sums, our cost of membership works out at £7.1 billion. That’s 30p per person per day – or half the price of a Mars Bar.
Moreover, we are committed to spend 0.7% of our national income on official aid for developing countries. Our share of EU aid – £816 million in 2014 – counts towards this target. If we left the EU we would have to increase our direct aid payments to hit the 0.7% goal. After deducting that sum, the cost of our membership falls further to £6.3 billion.
When the Leave camp is confronted with the fact that we don’t send £350 million a week to Brussels, it oftens replies that the rebate is under threat. This isn’t true. To scrap, reduce or otherwise change the rebate, Britain would have to agree.
Finally, Vote Leave says that we could use the money we send to Brussels to pay for the NHS and other goodies. This again is false. If we quit the EU, the damage to our economy would be so great that we would have less money to spend, not more.
This article was significantly updated on June 13
Edited by Hugo Dixon