The EU "divorce bill"

Published: 25th May 2017

In brief


The EU is asking for a £100 billion Brexit divorce bill.


The EU says that the UK should pay a share of money that’s already been committed to various projects. There is no official bill from them yet—and any bill will be a matter for negotiations. The latest figure of €100 billion is much higher than some of the others that were talked about before.

“The EU is showing its true colours here. Within the space of 48 hours, our divorce bill went from 50 billion to 100 billion.”

Paul Nuttall MEP, 4 May 2017

 The EU hasn’t officially asked for any particular sum of money, but does say that “the United Kingdom must honour its share of the financing of all the obligations undertaken while it was a member”.

The UK government seems to accept that, in principle, there might be a payment involved. But not on the scale of it.

There have been no official figures from either side. But there are indications of what types of thing Brussels thinks the UK should be paying for. Researchers have used these to speculate on what the demand might be.

An upfront figure of €60 billion had been circulating in Brussels. But more recent reports that the EU view of what to ask the UK to pay for is hardening have led Alex Barker of the Financial Times to calculate an upfront demand of between €91-113 billion.

Mr Barker thinks this would come down to roughly €55-75 billion net as Britain received money back. Other researchers have given ranges of €16-22 billion and €25-65 billion.

There’s no definitive figure for how much the EU will ask for. Professor Iain Begg, an EU budget expert, says that calculations can only be “on the back of an envelope”.

These calculations are complicated: there are various liabilities apart from just the core EU budget; the UK’s share of these isn’t settled; and there’s the question of whether the UK is entitled to a portion of EU assets. So there are different figures for different assumptions and scenarios. Lower estimates assume “minimal obligations to the EU and maximum UK receipts”, whereas higher ones “maximis[e] the UK’s obligations and minimis[e] its receipts, as the Institute for Government puts it.

Still less do we know how much the UK government will actually agree to.

A House of Lords report argues that legally the UK isn’t required to pay a penny. This has been disputed by some legal experts, and the report itself acknowledges that there are “competing interpretations”.

Ultimately this will be resolvedor notpolitically, in the Article 50 negotiations.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.


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