UK and Brussels clash over €47.50bn Brexit divorce bill

Obligations relate to past commitments made when UK was an EU member state

British prime minister Boris Johnson told parliament in 2017 that the EU could “go whistle” if it expected London to shoulder a Brexit bill estimated at up to about €45.5 billion.

British prime minister Boris Johnson told parliament in 2017 that the EU could “go whistle” if it expected London to shoulder a Brexit bill estimated at up to about €45.5 billion.

 

Britain owes more in outstanding liabilities to the European Union than London has previously calculated, according to European Commission accounts.

The British government has pushed back against the EU estimate that the so-called divorce bill amounts to €47.5 billion, revealed in the EU’s 2020 annual accounts.

“This is just an accounting estimate and does not reflect the exact amount the UK is expected to pay to the EU this year,” a UK government spokeswoman said in response to the EU figure.

“We will publish detail on payments to and from the EU made under the financial settlement in the EU finances statement later this year.”

Britain’s office for budget responsibility estimated in 2018 that the bill would be €41.4 billion or £37.1 billion, albeit depending on exchange rates and when payment became due. British officials have previously estimated a range of up to about €45.5 billion.

The bill is made up of outstanding commitments to EU budget items committed to and incurred when the UK was a member and during the transition period, when programmes continued to run.

Britain’s liabilities for items such as pensions for staff can also vary in the future, and the UK has estimated that the final payments may not be resolved until 2064.

Invoices

British prime minister Boris Johnson told parliament in 2017 that the EU could “go whistle” if it expected London to shoulder such a bill. However, he later accepted that the settlement was a requirement of to reach a trade deal and the UK agreed in the withdrawal agreement to make payments to the EU, which will send regular invoices.

“On 30 June, 2021, and in line with standard practice, the European Commission published the annual accounts of the European Union. These contain the amounts and detailed explanations on the UK’s obligations and liabilities towards the EU as well as the EU’s obligations and liabilities towards the UK,” a commission spokesman said in a statement.

“These reciprocal obligations, resulting in a net liability of the UK towards the EU, have been agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement, in full respect of the principle that any commitments made at 28 will be fulfilled at 28. The amounts concerned will be paid by the UK over a long period of time.

“In a nutshell, the UK’s net liability of €47.5 billion mainly relates to the UK’s share of the EU’s outstanding budgetary commitments and of the UK’s share of the EU’s post-employment obligations as an employer [ie pensions and sickness insurance] as of 31 December 2020.”

Ireland’s member on the European Court of Auditors, Tony Murphy, told RTÉ that while the sums are provisional, the court’s audit is complete and is not expected to change.