UK paid EU less than half the '£350m a week' claimed by Brexit battlebus

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The UK has been paying the EU less than half the sum emblazoned on the Leave campaign’s infamous battlebus, newly released figures show.

For the 12 months to March 2017, the UK made a net contribution of £8.1 billion or about £156 million a week – its lowest level for five years and nowhere close to the £350 million claimed by Brexiteers.

It is the first time the Treasury has given the figure for the period including the EU referendum date of June 23 last year.

The bill the UK pays to the EU was one of the hottest issues of the referendum, with the Leave campaign drawing widespread criticism for its battlebus slogan: “We send the EU £350 million a week.”

Supporters of the Remain campaign slammed it as misleading as it did not take into account the money the UK receives from the EU in the form of a rebate, or payments made to the public sector.

The figure for 2016-17 represents the lowest since 2011-12 and is down just over a quarter on the figure for 2015-16, when adjusted for inflation.

The UK’s gross contribution to the EU budget in 2016-17, before the application of the rebate, totalled £16.9 billion, or around £325 million a week.

But, as the UK Statistics Authority pointed out during the referendum campaign, the Treasury pays the UK’s contributions to the EU after deducting the value of the rebate.

The rebate in 2016-17 was £4.8 billion. Subtracting this from the gross contribution gives a figure of £12.2 billion.

A further subtraction of the EU’s payments to the UK public sector gives the final figure of £8.1 billion, or about £156 million a week.

The precise amount of money the UK sends to the EU is difficult to calculate.

EU payments that are made directly to the private sector, such as universities and research organisations, are not included in the Treasury’s figures and therefore not reflected in the estimate of £156 million a week.

A briefing paper published last week by the House of Commons Library said UK organisations receive around £1 billion, £1.5 billion a year directly from the European Commission.

This includes funding for research and innovation as part of the Horizon 2020 programme, and money for education, training, youth and sport through the Erasmus+ scheme.

The subject of payments is likely to play a crucial part in Brexit negotiations over the size of the UK’s so-called “divorce bill” for leaving the EU.

Downing Street has sought to play down speculation Theresa May would be prepared to pay a £36 billion bill in order to strike a comprehensive free trade agreement with Brussels.

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