What do we have to pay to the EU for Brexit?

11 December 2019

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How big is the EU divorce bill?

The most recent estimate of the EU divorce bill is £33 billion, although that was before the UK’s exit was delayed until after 31 October 2019. The reason it’s lower than the previously quoted figure of £39 billion is because the divorce bill includes the UK’s regular membership payments until the end of 2020.

So when the divorce bill was first agreed, it assumed that we had left the EU in March 2019, not January 2020. 

But this doesn’t make a difference to the amount the UK is or will pay the EU in total. It’s just that money has moved out of the “divorce bill” pot and into the amount we normally send the EU as a member state. 

In 2018, the UK state made a net contribution of £9 billion to the EU budget. The UK put £13 billion in and the EU spent £4 billion on the UK public sector. (For example, agricultural subsidies in the UK are paid out of this £4 billion.)

This doesn’t include EU spending on the UK private sector which was an additional £2.3 billion in 2016. So while the UK state makes a net contribution of £9 billion to the EU, the UK as a whole makes a smaller net contribution.

Most of the bill will be paid within the next six years but some payments will continue up to 2064

The divorce bill will be paid in installments over a number of years. Most of the money will be paid by 2026. 

However, the UK will be making payments to the EU until 2064 (an estimated £2.3 billion of the divorce bill is for liabilities which will be paid up until 2064). The largest part of these liabilities is expected to be the UK’s share of EU staff pensions.

The UK could technically refuse to pay the bill in the case of leaving the EU without a deal, but that brings its own problems

If the UK wants to leave the EU with a withdrawal deal, that will have to include a commitment to pay the bill, which covers things the UK has already committed to. 

If the UK wants to walk away from negotiations and leave the EU without a deal, technically it could refuse to pay the bill. However, there are problems with this.

Firstly, the EU might have grounds to challenge this legally. It’s hard to say what would happen in such a scenario but it’s possible the UK would be forced to pay the bill anyway. 

Secondly, not paying the bill now, despite repeated commitments by the UK that it would pay the bill, could undermine confidence in the UK. 

For example, not paying the bill might cause other states with whom the UK is negotiating trade deals, to question the value of the UK’s word in negotiations.


This article is part of our Ask Full Fact series on the 2019 general election, answering your questions about the election, from claims the main parties are making to what happens on polling day.

You can see all the questions we’ve answered so far and we’ll keep adding to it as we get through them.

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