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.
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.
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.