‘In Article 50, it makes it clear that the rights and obligations deriving from the treaties would therefore extinguish on our leaving […] the Lisbon Treaty makes it very clear there are no future obligations’

Nigel Farage, 20 July 2017

Nigel Farage said on his LBC radio show on Thursday that the UK won’t owe the EU any money after 2020. He cited Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which he says is ‘perfectly clear’ on the matter.

Commentators have been quick to point out that Mr Farage’s exact words – which he claimed were contained in Article 50 – are actually from a briefing paper produced by the European Parliament, rather than the Treaty itself.

So the exact wording isn’t quite right. But what about the substance of Mr Farage’s claim? Will our financial obligations to the EU really end in 2020?

FactCheck takes a look.

Mr Farage explained on air that EU funding works on a seven-year cycle called the ‘multiannual framework’. He said ‘this current one ends in 2020, so you could say that, morally, we have signed up to a series of spending agreements that take us through a little bit past the date we’re going to leave.’ (Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in March 2019, two years after the triggering of Article 50.)

He went on to say that once the current multiannual framework expires in 2020, we won’t owe the EU anything more.

We spoke to Professor Iain Begg, research fellow at the London School of Economics’ European Institute.

He said that there are differing legal views on the question of ongoing commitments to the EU after Brexit, and there is a ‘respectable argument that once you leave, all obligations cease as Farage claims’.

But he also pointed out that there are ‘commitments being made today for which the final bill, quite properly, will only be presented in five years’ time, such as binding contracts to finance roads, other big infrastructure projects or multi-annual research’.

In other words, the UK may well have plenty of financial obligations to the EU after 2020.

FactCheck verdict

Nigel Farage wrongly attributed his quote to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

But more importantly, his claim that the UK won’t owe the EU any money after 2020 is based on a contested assumption. There are plenty of projects that we have signed up to that could see the UK continuing to make payments to the EU well after 2020.

Legal opinion is split, and the final decision on what we pay the EU and when is likely to be decided by politics. Mr Farage may well turn out to be right – but at this stage things are far from ‘perfectly clear’.