As someone who is broadly pro-European, there comes a point every so often where the European Union do something so completely indefensible that makes you wonder if they want the UK to leave after all. Today is one of those times, with the UK being presented with a backdated bill for £1.7 billion, based on growth calculations that have been inaccurate for 20 years. Seemingly these changes are due to “European Union-wide changes to national accounts designed to better measure the size and scope of its economies, including — for the first time — treating research and development spending as a contributor to growth and estimates of illicit or black economy activity”. Presumably Britain agreed to these changes – perhaps to make it look like there was greater growth in the British economy?
If a script could be written by Nigel Farage, it might look like this.
And yet it’s even worse than it sounds. Greece – in abject financial turmoil – are being asked for a great contribution. Germany – the powerhouse of Europe – are getting a rebate. This is an abject farce.
Fortunately, Labour’s new Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden has issued a robust response:
“It’s unacceptable that the outgoing EU Commission should spring a backdated bill on member states in this way, but UK Ministers have known about this since last week. The Government should be pushing for the best deal possible for the UK. The Prime Minister must now make up for lost time, and should be working in step with other affected Member States, including the Netherlands and Italy. This is a proposal made by the outgoing EU Commission, and with a new Commission taking office imminently. So it is imperative that David Cameron now urgently discuss this with other member states, and urges the incoming EU Commission to look again at the proposed change.”
Quite right. But the money is due to be paid in less than six weeks. Labour needs to outright oppose this attempted cash grab. If a utility company told you they’d been charging you the wrong about for 20 years (due to their own faulty methodology), and asked for a great whopping payoff with just a few weeks notice, you’d rightly tell them to get lost. The same principle should apply when speaking to Brussels.
But at the same time, we should also ask what the government knew and when, and who in the UK government signed off on the new funding model that could cause untold problems’s for Britain’s relationship with Europe, and deprive our public services of further resources…