Budgetary contributions became a major issue in the EU Referendum – particularly after the claim on the side of the Leave campaign’s bus, “We send the EU £350 million a week”. It’s been comprehensively debated but the difficulty in giving an answer is quite how you cut it.
Boris Johnson speaks in front of a Leave campaign bus carrying the '£350m' promise
In 2015, the UK’s contribution to the EU budget was £13 billion, including fines, additional payments, directive control costs and others. The balance of what was contributed to the budget – the difference between what the UK paid and what it got back for agricultural spending, regional development, research funding etc – was a bit more than half that, somewhere around £8.5 billion [around £163m per week].
That’s a quite substantial amount of money, but it’s only in the region of 0.5 per cent of our GNI [Gross National Income, broadly equivalent to Gross Domestic Product with addition of income from abroad]. It’s less than the percentages for countries including Germany, Sweden and Denmark, and about what France contributes in net terms.
The size of UK government spending overall is more in the region of 50 per cent of GNI, so compared to national government expenditure the contribution to the EU is a very small part of outgoings. And there’s an additional argument over how much it’s worth globally. The consensus among economists is that the benefits of membership in terms of lower prices, economies of scale and market opportunities vastly outweigh the cost of contributions.