Boris Johnson’s infamous claim that we send £350 million a week to the EU is now a well recognised lie yet too many Brits still believe it

From the outset of the referendum campaign the £350m a week claim was refuted. Yet Boris Johnson and other Leave campaigners continued to use it. The claim wasn’t only made on the side of Vote Leave’s campaign bus, but also to greater effect on sophisticated social media marketing campaigns targeted at swing voters. “All our research and the close result strongly suggests that Remain would have won without the advert,” said Dominic Cummings after the campaign in 2017. “It was clearly the most effective argument, not only with the crucial swing [vote] but with almost every demographic.”

Importantly,  the enduring power of this false claim can be seen today. A 2018 study into attitudes to Brexit by Kings College London found that 42% of people who had heard the claim still believe it to be true, despite all attempts to debunk the myth. 

The fundamental problem with the claim (in 2016 figures) is that it misleads people to falsely equate the gross annual figure of £18b (roughly £350m per week) with the amount that we actually send to Brussels. It doesn’t take into account the rebate that was negotiated by Margaret Thatcher  back in 1984, that is taken off the UK’s contribution BEFORE we send any money. So the gross figure (it is different every year) would in reality be £18b (gross) minus the rebate (£4.5bn), so £13.5bn. However, that’s not the full story. The EU makes many contributions to UK projects, funding anything from scientific research to community projects in poorer areas (see list of examples here). When this is taken into account we actually pay around £8.5bn (around £165m a week – Note that Sir Andrew Dilnot, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, believes the number is closer to £136m per week).

Update: 13 December 2018

Boris  Johnson, perhaps the most high profile proponent of the claim that we send £350m a week to the EU, is to face a private prosecution with its first hearing in January 2019. If Johnson is found guilty he could be handed a custodial sentence. Private prosecutor, Marcus Ball said: ‘During the 2016 referendum I witnessed the disgusting demonstration of the depths to which our political professionals were willing to stoop. I want to prevent conduct of that kind from becoming the normal political standard in UK politics. ‘I knew that if we could win a prosecution against such immoral and untrustworthy actions the precedent could make it illegal for them to occur in future.’ Source: Metro

2017 figures UK Government

Gross Amount


– Minus Rebate


Minus EU contributions


= Actual UK cost


Cost vs. benefit

Of course, £8.5bn (or £8.9bn) is still a lot of money. However, when seen in the context of the total of UK government spending, it’s only circa 0.37% (see chart below). The the real question is, what do we get for that £8.9bn, and is it good value for money?

UK government spending – contributions to EU budget by the UK is just 0.37%

Chart showing UK contributions to EU budget as percentage of total spending

As a comparison our contribution to the EU budget is around a quarter of what the UK spends on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and less than an eighth of the UK’s defence spend.  The £116 per person net contribution is less than that from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. Source: CBI

Our trade with the EU vs. the rest of the world

The European Union consists of 28 countries, 500 million people and is the single largest trading block in the world. And, it’s right on our doorstep. About 44% of UK exports in goods and services went to EU countries in 2017, that’s £274 billion out of £616 billion total exports. It is true to say that over the 2000’s this number has been declining slowly, however since 2013 it has stayed fairly static. It’s not really wise to make predictions on where it will go in the future given the economic turbulence of the credit crisis of 2008-2009 and subsequent economic turbulence of the EU referendum. However, if, for example, leaving the EU meant we lost just 5% of our trade with Europe, the economy would lose 

EU membership gives the UK access to the Single Market and Customs Union, meaning we can trade freely with all 27 countries, with no non-tariff barriers. It is this access to European markets that attracts significant inward financial investment to the UK. We also have freedom of money, this allows our financial sector (our largest export) to access Europe’s money markets. in the wake of the referendum vote many financial bodies are relocating to Europe to enable them to keep access. This will cost us tax revenues and jobs. Freedom of movement means we can quickly and easily attract the best talent to run our businesses efficiently. It also means much needed low skilled workers can be employed in the UK enabling the hospitality sector (hotels, restaurants), food production, etc. to find casual work as required. The vote to leave the EU has seen a huge drop in migration to the UK and it is effecting NHS recruitment. Reports are already coming in that food is rotting in fields as there’s nobody available to pick it.

Every Brexit proposal is damaging to our economy

leaked government report entitled EU Exit Analysis shows that very Brexit scenario tested by the UK Treasury will be damaging to our economy, with those areas that voted most heavily to leave (Wales and the North East of England) the worst off. Currently there is no economic analysis of Theresa May’s Chequers proposal, and it seems the cabinet office are refusing to release either this or the government’s legal advice. 

Trade deals with the EU

As an EU member we have access to 35 trade deals already fully signed and 47 that are partially in place, with a further 21 still in negotiation (Source: EU). When we leave the European Union we will have none, and will have to start the long process of trade negotiations from the beginning. Trade deals often take over 5 years to sign, and our negotiating power outside of the EU will be much diminished – this means it is likely the terms of the agreement will not be as good. On top of these trade agreements, we have many other treaties that fall within the EU’s area,  after Brexit the UK will need to renegotiate at least 759 treaties.

Rights and regulations

The EU is often criticised for the number of regulations it issues, often seen as needless bureaucracy and the Conservative favourite ‘red tape’. But, bureaucracy is not a dirty word, and regulations are there to protect the people. The EU is the largest trading block in the world. The 4 freedoms – movement of people, money, trade and services – needs to have some regulation put in place to make that work. As we’ve seen, 0.37% of our spending goes towards this. Compare this with our own government’s administration costs of 1.19%. As part of the EU we share the costs of administration that would otherwise have to be undertaken by our own government at a greater cost.


Liar in chief exposed

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