UK net payments to EU fall to four-year low in 2016 - ONS

Flags are arranged at the EU Commission headquarters ahead of a first full round of talks on Brexit, Britain's divorce terms from the European Union, in Brussels, Belgium July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s net annual payment to the European Union budget fell to a four-year low last year of 9.4 billion pounds, down from 10.5 billion pounds in 2015, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday.

The figure works out to 1.2 percent of government spending, or 181 million pounds per week, slightly more than half the amount pro-Brexit campaigners said Britain sent to the EU during the run-up to last year’s referendum to exit the bloc.

Last month the head of Britain’s government statistics watchdog told Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading campaigner for Brexit, that he had committed “a clear misuse of official statistics” by repeating the 350 million figure.

Johnson, who mentioned the 350 million pound figure in a newspaper article last month, says he was referring to gross, not net, payments.

Britain’s theoretical gross contribution to the EU in 2016 was 18.9 billion pounds -- more than 360 million per week -- but this was automatically lowered to 13.9 billion pounds due to a rebate arrangement that has been in place since 1984.

Britain’s government received a further 4.4 billion pounds back from the EU to spend mostly on farm subsidies and infrastructure in poorer regions.

That figure does not include EU funds given directly to other British bodies such as universities. Taking this into account, the ONS said Britain’s total payment to the EU averaged 8.1 billion pounds a year over the past five years.

Britain is currently negotiating to leave the EU, and talks are stalled over how much Britain will pay to settle outstanding liabilities. May has offered around 20 billion euros ($23.3 billion), while EU officials estimate Britain owes around 60 billion euros.

Tuesday’s international payments data also confirmed earlier figures that Britain’s current account deficit last year rose to 5.9 percent of GDP, its highest since records began in 1946 and the largest among major advanced economies.

Reporting by David Milliken