The EU "divorce bill"

Published: 19th Oct 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. €100 billion is much higher than other estimates.

“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

"Britain to offer EU £36 billion for Brexit bill"

Sunday Telegraph, 6 August 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 accepts that there might be a payment involved. But not on the scale of it.

The Prime Minister said in a major speech in Florence in September that:  “I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. The UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership.”

There have been no official figures from either the UK or EU so far.

The UK government has reportedly offered £18 billion (€20bn) over two years, although the overall bill is expected to be higher than this.

Sunday Times report in September suggested the Prime Minister could approve a bill worth up to £50 billion (€54bn), while in August the Sunday Telegraph suggested £36 billion (€40bn) was considered by the UK as the sum likely to be reached through negotiations with the EU.

But Downing Street sources have dismissed the £36 billion figure as “highly speculative and wrong” while they don’t recognise the £50 billion claim.

Researchers have speculated previously what the size of the demand might be, and €60 billion is within the range of several of the estimates so far.

The same figure had been circulating in Brussels since last year. More recent reports that the EU view of what to ask the UK to pay for was hardening 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, has said 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 has argued 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 we will know more once the Article 50 negotiations have progressed further.


Correction 9 August 2017

We've removed the currency reference from the claim, which wasn't actually specified on the programme.

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


Budget forecasts: take them with a pinch of salt

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