EU Referendum

Brexit: leaving could cost more than staying in


Of all the ludicrous claims made by both sides in the EU referendum campaign, writes Booker, none was more bizarre than that blazoned on the side of Vote Leave's "Boris bus": that the "£350 million a week" we now give to the EU could be spent instead on the NHS.

The pretence, he says, that we could somehow spend on the NHS all the £17.8 billion a year we give to "EU institutions" was either absurdly ignorant or shamelessly dishonest.

Based largely on the figures in Monograph 3, Booker then goes on to tell us that leaving the EU could cost us more than we pay now. For a start, he writes, £4.9 billion of that £17.8 billion never leaves Britain, because it represents our EU budget rebate. So the amount we actually hand over is not £17.8 but only £12.9 billion.

Of this, as the Chancellor Philip Hammond has now confirmed, we shall continue to spend the further £4.5 billion that goes on subsidies to farming and regional funds. Equally guaranteed is the £1.5 billion which goes to private bodies such as universities for research.

We are also bound by UK law to continue spending the £1.2 billion of our aid budget currently administered by the EU. It would not be wise to discontinue spending most of the £2 billion we give to 27 EU agencies, such as that which regulates medicines, because it would be more costly for us to duplicate their work ourselves.

And if we are sensible enough to remain in the European Economic Area, giving us continued full access to the EU's single market, we would be bound to continue contributing the £2 billion a year we give through the EU to assisting the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

All of which adds up to £11.2 billion, leaving very little over from our current payments. But that is not the end of it. According to one estimate, the EU will be committed by 2027 to spending £300 billion on a whole range of programmes and projects to which the UK has already formally agreed.

Our share of this equates to some £5 billion a year, and any attempt by Britain to wriggle out of those commitments could become a highly contentious issue in the forthcoming negotiations. The EU would have much law on its side in arguing that we must meet those obligations.

Thus, Booker concludes, even if some compromise is reached, it seems quite possible that leaving the EU, however much many of us may wish it, could still be more costly to us than remaining. All that is certain is that it will not leave us with many pennies to spare for the NHS.