In the context of Brexit the claim first appeared in October 2015 in a launch video for the Vote Leave campaign. It was repeated countless times until the EU referendum by leave supporters, in leaflets and most famously on the side of the campaign’s red bus.
Boris Johnson, a key figurehead of Vote Leave, frequently made the claim. On 11 May he stood by it in an interview on the campaign bus with ITV News. “That figure represents accurately the gross sum that is sent,” he said. “Yes, we do get some of it back, but we get it at the discretion of EU officials who decide how they’re going to spend UK taxpayers’ money in the UK.” Johnson returned to the claim in September 2017 in a column for The Daily Telegraph long after the figure had been debunked by experts.
Numerous independent fact-checking organisations have judged that the £350 million figure is wrong. It ignores a rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, which is deducted before the UK sends money to the EU. The UK sends around £250 million to the EU. It also receives money from the EU, which is the money outside British control. Following Johnson’s use of the claim in his column in 2017, the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the prime minister criticising him for “a clear misuse of official statistics.” Johnson responded claiming the letter was a “complete misrepresentation” of what he had said.
The claim that the UK sends the EU £350 million a week is a lie.