The European Commission’s attempt to impose a surprise £1.7bn surcharge on Britain intensified today as Prime Minister David Cameron repeated his refusal to hand over the sum by that deadline, although he left open the possibility of paying a smaller amount at a later stage. On the other hand, Commission in Brussels claimed the Government should have known about the demand for cash and warning that refusal to pay could put the UK’s £3bn-a-year EU rebate in jeopardy.
Mr Cameron said: “Britain will not be paying 2billion euros to anyone on December 1 and we reject this scale of payment. We will be challenging this.” But later a spokesman said that in the past, Britain had been happy to pay sums of ‘the low hundreds of millions’ – indicating that the UK may end up paying a similar amount this time.
The Prime Minister was accused of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ by Ed Miliband. He claimed the Office for National Statistics had been working on the changes since 2012 and publicly stated in May that they would impact on the UK’s contribution, while then-Treasury minister Nicky Morgan said in March that the Government was giving ‘high priority’ to addressing them.
Britain was hit with the higher bill because its economy has become more successful, something evidenced by data provided by its own Office for National Statistics. Other EU states were clobbered with painful bills too, and in the past Britain has been the beneficiary of such EU budget redistributions.
The row and the way it has been spun by the popular press and politicians shows Britain’s decades-old distrust of the EU, a political shift towards greater Euroscepticism, and the intemperate nature of any debate about Europe in Britain. It also illustrated how the rise of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (Ukip) has dramatically shifted the political centre of gravity towards Euroscepticism.