The UK pays more into the EU budget than it gets back.
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.
The UK’s contributions to the budget vary from year to year. They’ve been larger recently than in previous decades.
A 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?
£55 million a day doesn't include the rebate and is not based on recommended figures
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
£350 million is what we would pay to the EU budget, without the rebate.
But the UK actually pays around £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
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.
Newer figures are available
But that’s not comparing like with like.
The £156 million figure is calculated after the rebate has been applied and after the ‘public sector receipts’ for that year have been subtracted. The £350 million accounted for neither of these things.
Using these newer figures the amount we sent to the EU, after the rebate but before any money spent in the UK is counted, is £234 million per week. These figures also look at the 2016/17 financial year, rather than the 2016 calendar year we have discussed throughout this article.
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 9 August 2017
We updated this article to include information on the 2016/17 budget figures.
Isn't it nice to have the whole picture?
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