The UK's EU membership fee

Published: 25 Feb 2016

The UK pays more into the EU budget than it gets back.

In 2016 the UK government paid £13.1 billion to the EU budget, and EU spending on the UK was forecast to be £4.5 billion. So the UK’s ‘net contribution’ was estimated at about £8.6 billion.

Each year the UK gets an instant discount on its contributions to the EU—the ‘rebate’—worth almost £4 billion last year. Without it the UK would have been liable for £17 billion in contributions.

UK EU membership Fee 2016The UK doesn’t pay or "send to Brussels" this higher figure of £18 billion, or anything equivalent per week or per day. The rebate is applied straight away, so the UK never contributes this much.

The UK’s contributions to the budget vary from year to year. They’ve been larger recently than in previous decades.

UK payments to EU budget since 1973A membership fee isn’t the same as the economic cost or benefit

Being in the EU costs money but does it also create trade, jobs and investment that are worth more?

We can be pretty sure about how much cash we put in, but it’s far harder to be sure about how much, if anything, comes back in economic benefits.

£55 million a day doesn't include the rebate and is not based on recommended figures

The claim that the UK’s membership fee is £55 million a day comes from the £20 billion annual UK payment to EU institutions listed in the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) Pink Book. 

The ONS told us this isn’t the correct figure to use. It has another set of figures which actually represent official government payments, although this isn’t clear from the release.

The £20 billion figure includes payments to EU institutions by UK households, and so doesn’t represent what the government pays as a ‘membership fee’.

The Treasury has more up-to-date estimates than the ONS, and uses slightly different accounting methods. They show that the UK government paid in £13.1 billion in 2016.

We previously said that “it's reasonable to describe £55 million as our ‘membership fee’, but it ignores the fact that we get money back as well.”

This was based on the understanding that the rebate is paid up front and then sent back, which we now know is wrong.

£350 million a week doesn’t include the rebate but uses better figures

It’s also been claimed that we send £350 million a week to the EU. That also misses out the rebate, although is based on better figures for the UK’s contributions.

£350 million is what we would pay to the EU budget, without the rebate.

But the UK actually pays just under £250 million a week.

The UK Statistics Authority has said the EU membership fee figure of £19 billion a year, or £350 million a week, is "not an amount of money that the UK pays to the EU each year".

The UK gets money back

The government then gets some of that money back, mainly through payments to farmers and for poorer areas of the country such as Wales and Cornwall.

In 2016, the UK's ‘public sector receipts’ are forecast to be £4.5 billion.

So overall we paid in £8.6 billion more than we got back, or £24 million a day. 

The Treasury figures note payments the EU makes directly to the private sector, such as research grants. In 2014, these were worth an estimated £1 billion, so including them could reduce our net contribution further still.

The money we get back will be spent on things the government may or may not choose to fund if we left the EU. It’s not enough to look at the net contribution in isolation because what we get back isn’t fully under our control.

Different figures from different sources

The Treasury's European Union Finances release provides the best figures for the UK’s contributions to the EU budget, according to the ONS.

The Treasury and ONS both publish figures on the subject, but they're slightly different. The ONS also publishes other figures on contributions to EU institutions which don't include all our payments or receipts, which complicates matters.

The ONS figures ultimately come from the Treasury, and the numbers aren't the same because they categorise and account for the payments differently.

The European Commission is still another source of information which shows lower contributions.

Correction 25 February 2016

We replaced the original article from 2014 with a more detailed explanation. We’ve corrected what we said about the claim that the UK’s EU ‘membership fee’ is £55 million a day, as noted in the text above.

Update 28 March 2017

We updated this piece with the most recent available figures.

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