There will certainly be a number of things that I didn’t consider when researching whether to vote for a Brexit or not. One of the more glaring omissions on my part, was just how much do our 73 MEPs cost the British taxpayer, on top of what we already pay for our members of both Houses of Parliament?
The data I am using in this post are perhaps a bit confusing at times, and a little outdated, coming as it does from a mix of the European Parliament’s 2013 article and more up-to-date figures, but I shall endeavour to highlight where such confusion could arise, and that the source material includes official answers to relevant questions from both the House of Lords and the European Parliament (EP). But even if the data are outdated or somewhat obscured by later developments, whatever the cost of UK MEPs to British taxpayers is, it is an amount that we would no longer have to bear given our impending exit from the EU.
A brief search for “how much do uk meps cost” showed a headline article by the Daily Telegraph. To be honest, I didn’t read it. I actually wanted to get a less pro-Brexit perspective on this. I didn’t have to look far, as the second-linked article was from the EP itself. I can’t imagine you could hope to find a more pro-European source than this, so I clicked on the link.
The returned article was titled just a little differently than my own search (The ‘cost’ of MEPs), but it was certainly close enough, even without the hyperbolic highlighting of the word ‘cost’, as if it doesn’t really cost anything at all. It does, of course, ‘cost’, and in more ways than a simple reckoning of taxpayer’s money, as we shall see, but what I found most interesting at the time, was that this particular article is listed under the heading of “Euromyths”, and is, in part, a response to the Daily Telegraph article I skipped over in my search. With this in mind, I decided to actually read the Daily Telegraph article, if for no other reason than to check the EP weren’t cherry picking, or making some other fallaciously reasoned argument. And for the sake of brevity, I will not approach the EP’s response to the other paper’s articles.
The Daily Telegraph article
The opening salvo outlines the basics well enough.
Lord Sassoon, the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, revealed the cost of an MEP is £1.79 million compared with £590,000 per MP. Peers sitting in the House of Lords cost just £130,000 a year.
“The European Parliament costs £838 million per annum more than the combined cost of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.”
I have to admit, this quote from Sassoon is a stretch. The cost of the entirety of the EP is not met entirely by the British taxpayer, so when considering the cost of our UK MEPs per annum alone (£129mn with 72 members @ £1.79mn per member, per annum – using pre-2014 numbers of UK MEPs), a more relevant statement would be ‘The European Parliament costs £365 million per annum more less than the combined cost of the House of Commons and the House of Lords (£494mn).” That said, we still pay a significant amount per annum for our UK MEPs over and above what we pay for our Houses combined as a part of our EU contribution.
Sassoon goes on to mention that the number of MEPs in total has risen from 736 to 754 (although another EP source claims the number from 2014 was 751, or 750 plus a president Wikipedia), but the increase in UK MEPs was marginal (72 to 73.)
The article ends with a tangent to David Cameron’s attempt to reduce spending across the Eurpean Commission, being dismissed with a withering allusion to EU bureaucrats not being “burger flippers”, as if our MPs and Lords are.
The European Parliament’s mythbusting response
[G]iven the international nature of the European Parliament, comparing its costs to those of running the Houses of Parliament is like comparing apples and oranges.
We pointed out that European Parliament operates in 23 official languages, leading to translation and interpretation costs not applicable to the Houses of Parliament. Unlike the Palace of Westminster, most of the European Parliament’s office space is rented or leased. And because of a decision made by Member States, including the UK, and enshrined in the Treaties, the EP has two working seats, resulting in extra costs linked to travel, staffing, the upkeep of the buildings, and so on.
While Parliament may not have any direct need to operate across 23 languages, even as a former member of the EU, we will hardly be isolated from the numerous languages other nations use, and that would be in addition to the 24 official languages of the EU (23 not including English), two of which are official working languages. I am reluctant to research the number of languages different nations outside of the EU work with, because despite it highlighting the nonsense that our parliament will only ever operate in English alone, it doesn’t represent the major bone of contention my post relates to. Although, I would like to quote a BBC article that states,
Latest estimates suggest that £140m a year is spent on translation by the UK public sector as a whole.
This figure, no doubt, includes the cost of catering to both EU and non-EU nationals here in the UK, and is distinct from the cost we already pay in translation services as a part of our EU contribution. So I should imagine these costs will remain with us even after leaving the EU, because it is the right thing to do with regard to those people that have made the UK their home.
I couldn’t actually find any discrete costs for translation services for Parliament alone. It may be that such costs are included in the BBC’s appraisal, that Parliament’s translation services are a function of the government departments or it may be exclusive of that figure. In any case, to suggest that translation services are a unique aspect of the European Parliament are laughable.
The above quote then goes on to mention the ownership (or otherwise) of our respective parliaments. The fact that the UK owns the Palace of Westminster (it is actually owned by the monarch in right of The Crown), and operates from one base, is largely commendable. Or is the European Parliament trying to convince us that not owning it, and paying rent in two seats of power is preferable? We may well have signed up to the idea, but that doesn’t make it a good idea in its own right, and given its exorbitant cost and ridiculous logistics, should not the EU seek to minimise these costs and hurdles by means of a treaty change it itself could effect? And if it is not capable of effecting treaty change or cost reductions, what good is it anyway?
The next two paragraphs confront the efficacy, or otherwise, of the European Parliament, and how, “British MEPs (among others) have significantly greater legislative powers than the average British backbench MP.” Quite apart from highlighting how diminished the sovereignty of the UK Parliament has become in comparison to the European Parliament, these aspects of their response don’t approach the remit of this post. In fact, about two thirds of this “Euromythbusting” doesn’t relate to the bones of the Daily Telegraph’s article at all. It does nothing to disagree with the figures presented by the Daily Telegraph, so we can say with some degree of confidence, that the European Parliament does not feel these figures require mythbusting at all.
While it can be difficult to nail down an exact figure for exactly how much our UK MEPs cost, the European Parliament doesn’t appear to disagree with the amounts disclosed in the House of Lords response. So we can conclude, then, that the best estimate for the cost of UK MEPs as a part of the UK’s current EU contribution, is presently about £131mn (73 MEPs @ £1.79mn per member per annum.)
While I’ll concede, that the numbers we are talking about here are not nation changing amounts, and that it is already included in our gross EU contribution, that doesn’t mean the cost doesn’t exist. For as long as we pay EU contributions for access to its many functions, this remains the cost to the UK taxpayer.
It should also be noted, that this estimated £131mn per annum cost is only half that of Blowhard Boris’ ludicrous, debunked and still repeated claim that £350mn per week could be spent on the NHS. But the actual amount, whatever it is, still represents a cost to the British taxpayer as a proportion of our overall EU contribution each year.
As people appear reluctant to post in the comments (something I have never really understood), I am forced to paste links to the discussions this post raised on other media.