Is the divorce bill that we’re paying less than half of what the EU originally asked for?

10 December 2018

The “divorce bill” is the sum of money we’re paying the EU to cover outstanding budget contributions and other liabilities we owe them, like pension contributions. The total size of the bill is currently estimated to be  £39 billion—this was agreed by the UK and EU in the draft withdrawal agreement. The Prime Minister recently suggested that the EU was originally asking for £100 billion.

The £39 billion sum was provisionally agreed in late 2017, but in the months prior to this papers were rife with speculation about possible size of the divorce bill.

One commonly cited figure in the summer of 2017 was around €100 billion, based on details briefed by the European commission . But as far as we’ve seen,  this was always a gross (rather than net) figure for the UK’s total liabilities―so not taking into account payments and benefits that would come back to the UK. The same press reports made clear that the net bill would be significantly lower than the €100 billion figure.

The finally agreed figure of £39 billion (or €42 billion) is a net amount, so you can’t compare it to the €100 billion gross estimate. Press reports suggested that the UK government had largely agreed to assume liabilities worth €100 billion, but that the net payment would be “less than half that amount”, suggesting that the two figures are not actually that far apart. 

One difference is that reports in summer of 2017 suggested that the UK would pay €80-100 billion up-front, before having that sum reduced through payments from the EU over a decade or more. The agreed bill does not require this, with the UK instead paying the EU £39 billion through a series payments, most of which occur over the next decade.

This article is part of our Ask Full Fact series on Brexit, answering your questions about Brexit and the latest negotiations between the UK and the EU.

You can see all the questions we’ve answered so far here. If you want to ask us your own question, do that here.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.