Would we have £350 million to spend on the NHS if we vote leave?
There are some who believe Brexit would be beneficial for the NHS. Vote Leave have claimed that Brexit would free up approximately £350 million per week, which they say is our weekly EU budget contribution. According to them, the UK could spend this money on the NHS if it left the EU.
Whilst it’s true some money from the UK’s EU budget contributions could be reallocated to the NHS after Brexit, it wouldn’t be nearly this much. Vote Leave have used the gross yearly figure: approximately £18bn. This figure includes amounts that it shouldn’t, such as the rebate (£4.8bn). The rebate shouldn’t be included because we don’t send it to the EU; it’s subtracted from the UK’s monthly contribution prior to payment.
Whilst giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee, the Chief Executive of Vote Leave, Matthew Elliott, gave two reasons for their decision to include the rebate. Firstly, the rebate isn’t set in stone. Secondly, there are influential individuals within the Remain campaign who have argued for its abolishment. According to Elliott, the executive director of the Remain campaign, Will Straw, had written in 2012 that the rebate should be abolished. Because the rebate could be abolished in the future, Elliott states that it should be discussed in this referendum.
Whilst the rebate should be discussed, it still doesn’t justify the claim that we send £350 million per week because the rebate isn’t sent. The UK sent approximately £13.4bn to the EU in the financial year 2014-15, which equates to approximately £258 million a week.
Whilst this is the highest amount anyone can claim to reallocate to public services, it isn’t the most sensible. The UK received back £4.6bn of EU funding which primarily assisted the agricultural sector, regional development and social cohesion. After Brexit these areas would lose this funding, and it may not be in the government’s interest to cut funding to these areas completely. If the government chose to completely plug this gap, approximately £8.8bn would be left over to spend on public services based on the 2014-15 payments, or £169 million per week. This is less than half the figure Vote Leave quote.
But even this figure isn’t concrete. After Brexit, the UK may still have to make contributions to the EU budget if it is to retain access to the single market. Countries outside the EU, like Norway and Switzerland, make contributions to the EU budget to gain this access. These are approximately £106 per capita and £53 per capita respectively. This goes to show that it is impossible to tell what the UK would pay before the post-Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU.
Conclusion: Whilst it’s true that some of the UK’s EU budgetary contributions could be reallocated to the NHS, it’s incorrect to use the gross figure of £350 million per week. The actual amount will heavily depend on the particular arrangement we have with the EU post-Brexit.
- Christian Stensrud – EU Research Fellow
 This is for the financial year 2014-15. This can be found on p. 17 of the HM treasury report on European finances, 2015. All the EU budgetary figures in this article are taken from table 3.C on p. 17. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/483344/EU_finances_2015_final_web_09122015.pdf
 Video is available at: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/1da2f54c-281c-4335-81f5-0f7504db6622 The point Matthew Elliott makes is from 14:45:20.
 W. Straw, ‘Staying In: A reform plan for Britain and Europe’, IPPR, November 2012, pp.3-4, Available from: http://www.ippr.org/files/images/media/files/publication/2012/11/staying-in-europe-uk_Nov2012_9862.pdf?noredirect=1
 These are labelled ‘public sector receipts’ in the Treasury’s report in table 3.C, p. 17.
 Norway’s figures are for 2011 and Switzerland’s are a general figure for the five year period to 2012. Figures available from: http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/RP13-42#fullreport