Britain closer to quitting EU

David-Cameron angry
David Cameron vents his anger

Red-faced with anger, the Prime Minister vowed to block payment of the “completely unacceptable” surcharge presented by EU officials in a surprise overhaul of national contributions.
“It is not acceptable, it is an appalling way to behave,” Mr Cameron said.

Calls for the UK to withdraw from the EU intensified yesterday following the cash demand, which will cost every family in the country £65.

And he admitted the latest insult to UK taxpayers – with the bill due to be paid by December 1st – was undermining his drive to keep Britain in the EU.

When pressed on the issue by the Daily Express he said: “It certainly doesn’t help, put it that way.”

As the row deepened, there was fresh pressure for the Prime Minister to accelerate his promised in-or-out referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage warned that Mr Cameron was in “real political trouble”.

“Yes, it’s outrageous, but that’s how the European Union works,” he said.

“He’s in a very weak position. He can do nothing about this.

“And I think, really, he’s now being pushed into a position where, unless he brings forward his referendum promise, I think he’s in real political trouble.”

The poisonous row over cash contributions to EU coffers engulfed a summit of European leaders in Brussels yesterday.

Several were incandescent after a string of countries including Britain, Italy, Holland, Greece and Malta, were suddenly presented with extra bills to cover “adjustments” in their membership.

They were told they needed to pay more cash because their economies had performed better than forecast between 1995 and 2013.

Britain’s payment would raise the country’s annual EU contribution to £8.6billion.

But other countries including France and Germany were due cash back because their economies had under-performed.Italian premier Matteo Renzi, in a blast across the summit table, described the cash demand as a “lethal weapon” thrust at his nation.

And Mr Cameron likened the bill to being coshed with “lead piping in the library” in a reference to the murder mystery board game Cluedo.
In an angry intervention, he interrupted a summit discussion on economic policy to confront European Commission President Jose Barroso over the cash demand.

He accused the Eurocrat of having “no idea” of the impact the “vast” invoice would have on the UK.

Speaking at a news conference at the end of the summit, he said the “completely unjustified and sudden production of a bill for Britain of £1.7billion” had provoked “downright anger” in him.

Mr Cameron insisted: “It is an unacceptable way for this organisation to work, to suddenly present a bill like this for such a vast sum of money with so little time to pay it.

“And it is an unacceptable way to treat one of the biggest contributors to the European Union.”

Repeatedly thumping his lectern with a clenched fist, he added: “I am not paying that bill on December 1st.

“If people think I am, they’ve got another thing coming; it is not going to happen.

“As an important contributor to this organisation, we are not suddenly going to get out our chequebook and write a cheque for two billion euros; it is not happening.”

Mr Cameron insisted he had only learned about the swingeing cash demand yesterday.

But questions were being raised about exactly how the bill was dealt with in Whitehall after it was revealed that the Treasury had received the calculations several days earlier.

Mr Cameron said: “We need to make sure the Commission start answering questions about how on earth these numbers were arrived at.

“The figures need to be thoroughly investigated; an explanation of how this happened needs to be properly produced.”

Quoting Mr Renzi’s intervention, Mr Cameron said: “People have got to understand that this is not a figure, this is a lethal weapon.”

He quoted Mr Renzi as saying: “When people produce a lethal weapon like this, don’t they understand that it leads to people, across Europe, thinking that the European Commission consists of technocrats and bureaucrats without a heart or a soul?”

He added: “That is what the Italian prime minister said and I agree with every word of it.”

He went on: “The first that I saw of it was yesterday, Thursday, and my instant reaction was to look at the other countries that are being treated in this way and to form an alliance with them and put a stop to this European Council so it could be properly discussed and an emergency meeting of finance ministers could be established.

“Yes, the Treasury had this information a little bit earlier but I don’t seek to single people out and say ‘Why didn’t you tell me this?’ or ‘Why didn’t you tell me that?’.
“When this information comes in the first thing they do is try to check it and sort it.
“I think, frankly, it is a bit of a red herring. You can all do ‘Who knew what whens’ and all the rest of it but actually, frankly, you don’t need a Cluedo set to know that someone has been clubbed with the lead piping in the library.

“It’s a two billion euro bill, it gets presented with a month to go; that is not an acceptable way to behave and it’s not an acceptable sum of money.

“We have invested in this organisation, we are a leading player in it. You do not join an association that suddenly thumps you with a bill for two billion euros three weeks before you’ve got to pay it.

“If it behaves in this way, it shouldn’t get surprised when its members say this cannot go on and it’s got to change.”

Senior Tory MP Bill Cash called an emergency meeting of his Commons European Scrutiny Committee to discuss the bill.

“I expect a Treasury Minister to appear before the Committee early next week to explain how long the Government has known about the proposed increase, what it has done about it, and what immediate action it now intends to take,” he said.

Tory MEP Daniel Hannan said the bill was making his campaign for Britain to quit the EU “redundant.”

“The EU is doing a better job for us than all British Eurosceptics put together,” he said.

“The extra money being demanded by Brussels – just the extra – would allow us to hire an extra 60,000 nurses and fund their pensions.”

Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson branded the EU bill “ludicrous.”

“The Prime Minister is absolutely right to build a consensus among our European allies on this – it’s EU bureaucracy gone mad.

“If ever there existed a reason for fundamental reform of the EU here it is,” he said.

“Suddenly demanding at a moment’s notice a £1.7 billion surcharge simply because Britain has outperformed other EU countries is ludicrous and completely unacceptable.”

Senior Tory backbencher John Redwood said: “This is a very large increase in tax on the British people, imposed retrospectively without their permission.
“It offends all our principles of natural justice and fair taxation. “The British people are already paying too much tax and he last thing they intend to do is sent another £1.7 billion to the Commission so that they can behave in the way they just have overnight.”

Fellow Tory Mark Pritchard said: “The timing and content of the EU budget demand shows how inept Brussels is.

“Brussels needs to work with the UK Government, not work against it.

“Unless this behaviour changes, the EU referendum could be brought forward.

“Europe should not penalise the UK’s economic success whilst rewarding France’s economic failure.”

And Peter Bone, another Tory MP, said: “We are just being taken for a ride.

“We are paying more and more in and getting nothing in return.

“Roll on the referendum – this will just strengthen the resolve of the British public to get out of this super-state.

“They are trying to rub David Cameron’s nose in the dirt for having the audacity to stand up and say freedom of movement is wrong.”

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the Business for Britain pressure group, said: “It’s staggering that the UK is being punished by Brussels for making the correct decisions, such as staying out of the euro, that have allowed our economy to grow.

“We seem to pay more and more into the EU’s inflated budgets yet the main thing we get in return is just more red tape.

“David Cameron should categorically reject any attempts to get Britain to top up the EU’s coffers and focus on securing a new, improved EU deal for the country. “

Details of the funding figures showed that Britain was facing by far the biggest top up of all EU nations.

“The Netherlands was being asked for an extra £506million.

In contrast, Germany was due an £800million rebate, France £789million and Poland £250million.

The EU’s demand for the money could not have come at a worse time for the Prime Minister, who is seeing traditional Tory support flock to the UK Independence Party.

Mr Cameron has already been given one black eye by Ukip, with former Tory Douglas Carswell defecting to the anti-Brussels party and winning the subsequent by-election in Clacton earlier this month.

The Tories seem on course to lose another by-election to Nigel Farage’s party on November 20, with one opinion poll putting former Tory MP Mark Reckless 13 points ahead in the constituency of Rochester and Strood.

Mr Cameron used a visit to the constituency last week to announce there would be “one last go” at a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with Brussels.

Downing Street officials insisted Mr Cameron will stick to his refusal to pay unless the sum was substantially cut.

One aide said: “The amount is vast and much more than any other countries is being asked for.

“We have always accepted adjustments in the past but they have never been that scale.”

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso gave little sign of willingness to negotiate on the bill, however.

He claimed the Commission was only following the procedures created by member states to balance the EU’s books each year.

Adjustments to contributions were made every year, and “sometimes member states were asked to give more money, sometimes they receive much more more” – as happened to the UK in 2008 – he told an end-of-summit press conference.

The Commission had proposed reforms to the system, but these were rejected by the member states, who insisted on continuing to use the national income measure, said Mr Barroso.

Data on national income was provided by statistics authorities in each of the 28 member states and figures were then calculated by the independent Eurostat organisation in Brussels, he said.

The Commission was ready to provide “information” about the process to finance ministers at the upcoming meeting, he said. But he added: “It is impossible to have negotiations about GNI (gross national income).”

“Of course, I understand the concerns it has raised in London, but any person that wants to look with objectivity and honesty at the rules that were approved by the member states has to accept that sometimes these decisions happen,” said Mr Barroso.

Asked how the Commission would respond if Mr Cameron made good on his threat to withhold payment, Mr Barroso said: “I can’t now speculate on non-payment.”

Mr Cameron visited the constituency again yesterday, blaming “these European Councils” for making him late.

Addressing community figures he added: “There are too many of them and they go on far too long and they always try to get hold of your money.

“But they didn’t get my money and I got here in the end.”