Opinion: Let’s tell the truth about EU budget surcharge

Euro by Alf MelinOver the last couple of days I have been disappointed that the Lib Dem leadership has seemed to go along with the Osborne/Cameron version of events with respect to the ‘reduction’ in the £1.7 billion owed to the EU.

On Friday, Osborne claimed that through his tough negotiations the UK would only be paying £850 billion.  However reports later on explained that the only deal done was over the timing of the payment, and that the reduction was simply due to the UK’s EU budget rebate being applied.

Over the weekend, various members of the European Commission have denied that the rebate was ever in question – therefore the bill never really was £1.7 billion.

Unfortunately, I would have to agree with those who say that this feels like ‘smoke and mirrors’ by a Tory party desperate to show their right wing (and potential UKIP voters) that they can stand up to Europe.  Those nasty European bureaucrats demand an extra £1.7 billion out of the blue, but Osborne and Cameron ride to the rescue and force the EU to halve the bill.

We should have no part in this.  My own view is that voters will look dimly at this sort of ‘presentational politics’ and as the UK’s only pro-European party we should be honest about what the real sums are.

* Cara Jenkinson is Vice-Chair of Haringey Liberal Democrats and PPC for Enfield North

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  • Richard Dean 10th Nov '14 - 3:22pm

    I agree. The Express has some interesting facts, if “facts” they are, including these (slightly re-worded):

    > 139,116 workers on the adult minimum wage earn £1.7bn in one year
    > We could save £1.7 billion per year by turning off all electrical appliances that have been left on standby
    > We spend £1.7 billion on healthcare every 5 days


  • So we have to conclude that ‘smoke and mirrors’ was part of the original claim that the UK had to pay an extra £1.7 billion.

    Why did it take so long for the real sum to emerge? It would have been good if Danny Alexander had spotted this and made the real figure clear when the issue emerged a couple of weeks ago.

  • The readjustment on the budget have been known about for years. Our own Office of National Statistics sent the information to Eurostat so it could be incorporated into the final figures which resulted in the 1.7bn. However, the rebate was always going to reduce the overall amount.

  • Just a small point libdem had said on tv this was appalling when an article says let’s tell the truth it don’t look good for LibDems either

    More than smoke and mirror plain lies, and another demonstration of how the three main parties think everyone will fall for stories.

    Let’s not forget labour is as much to blame as Tony Blair did lots of negotions and both Eds had exchequer experience

  • Tony Greaves 10th Nov '14 - 5:35pm

    People just churn out the daily spin and the “LD spin” is all too often just the government spinners’ spin. And they basically work for the Tories.

    Tony Greaves

  • @ Tony Greaves

    I truly think the electorate are sick and fed up of misleading us if it helps I doubt LD will get it in the neck any more than the other 2 parties I am so disappointed. on TV now the EU in parliament again shows the arrest warrant and farce it feels as if Mps are worse than kids. Cbi saying they want EU they would have a vote, it’s more and more a dictatorship only difference we have 650+ dictators

  • David Evans 10th Nov '14 - 6:05pm

    All it would have taken was Vince to say “I don’t think so” in his usual laconic way when asked “Has George Osborne got us a refund?” However, Danny is our spokesman (despite others being promised he wouldn’t be by now) and no-one asks us in any case, such is the disdain the media now hold us. The failure of the Nick Clegg approach to being in government has a lot to answer for.

  • All Osbourne has done is to secure favourable repayment terms his spinning was actually pretty laughable and shown to be so within hours of his statement. Still Cameron got to thump a rostrum and act tough, although I doubt Farage was quaking in his boots.

    In fact you could argue he has borrowed money from the next Government as they would have received the rebate had it been processed in the usual way. The fact that everyone else in the meeting seemed to dismiss his version of event just increases the impression we are fast becoming a laughing stock within the EU. Not good omens for a Government that wants to renegotiate the terms of our membership……

  • It remains that the original misleading spin was to make out that the bill was £1.7 billion when plainly it was always half that. Why was it ever reported as £1.7 billion, when the treasury must have known months ago how much we really would have to pay?

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Nov '14 - 7:12pm

    My opinion of Osborne has changed recently from being a right wing ideologue to someone pretending to be a right wing ideologue. That strategy isn’t in my self interest, but I suppose he thinks it is necessary to keep the Conservative Party united.

    I might be wrong, but genuine ideologue’s wouldn’t have responded so cheerily to my complaints of him. Unless, of course, it is a double bluff (from his office).

  • Phil Wainewright 10th Nov '14 - 8:10pm

    Everyone seems to have forgotten that standing up to Europe on a manufactured pretext secured Jim Hacker’s premiership. The £1.7 billion is George Osborne’s own ‘Eurosausage’.

  • paul barker 10th Nov '14 - 8:17pm

    Still on The Tory deathwish re Europe does anyone know what happens if The Coalition actually lose a vote tonight ? They won by just 9 Votes earlier so a lost Vote seems possible. Does it affect The Coalition or just make a challenge to Cameron more Likely ?

  • Phil – but Yes Minister is fiction 🙂

  • Richard Dean 10th Nov '14 - 10:07pm

    @Stephen W
    Maybe not explicitly, but words aren’t the only way of communicating meaning. The PM ticked off three achievements on his fingers, and I seem to remember Osborne saying the same:

    > halving the bill
    > not having to pay by the quoted deadline
    > not having to pay interest on the delayed payment

    All the news media comment was to the effect that others in the EU didn’t want this to happen, so, whether or not it was explicitly stated in words, the implication is that it happened because of a tough stance by the UK.

  • Cara Jenkinson 10th Nov '14 - 11:01pm

    Stephen W – well spotted and you’re right – better proof-reading required! At least mine was an accidental error though…

  • Whilst Cara is clear about where she stands with respect to the UK governments spin put on the rebate, she is totally unclear as to where she actually stands on the EU budget surcharge and on where she stands on the rebate.

    To me the core monetary issues around the surcharge are in the way in which it has been calculated. Firstly, the calculations go back to 1995, which seems to be excessive. Likewise the whole basis of the calculation in terms of what is and isn’t included and the weightings applied are questionable, particularly as the figures include guestimates of parts of the black and grey economies.

    We then move onto the next issue which is just as troubling; UK government departments were responsible for doing the UK calculations and submitting them to the EU, seemingly without any parliamentary scrutiny – did the Public Accounts Committee review the submission? given the amount of taxpayers money potentially involved they should of been, particularly as government departments report to Westminster and not to Brussels.

    Finally, there needs to be some heads being bashed together in Brussels, as the way they released the information about which countries were being surcharged and those who would be receiving windfalls/rebates and the amounts involved has damaged both the EU and the public’s perception of the degree to which national politicians can successfully negotiate with Brussels.

  • EU bill was not a surprise, it was Govt budgeting incompetence. We helped make the rules, we agreed to the rules, but then Cameron and Osborne didn’t want to play by the rules? How very un-British. And then to cap it all Osborne is using money from tomorrow (next year’s EU rebate) to pay for a a significant part of today’s bill, whilst seemingly trying to claim credit for having halved the bill. Disgraceful. Throughout this tawdry episode where have the LibDems been? Nowhere. Danny Alexander’s silence has been deafening.

  • I’m saddened by the thought that, had the calculation resulted in a rebate, this would have been celebrate as a victory.

    It would be good if it could be put back into its place as a minor technical matter. I fear Cameron’s posturing is an attempt to out-do UKIP, which is doing serious harm to the auk’s place in Europe.

  • (Oops, auto-correct misbehaved… I meant harm to the UK’s place in Europe)

  • I too am disappointed in our hand in this. What better way of putting distance between ourselves and the Tories then to have come straight out of the trap and tell the public exactly the way it really was. Even George Osbourne didn’t look convincing when trying to claim his ‘victory’.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 11th Nov '14 - 9:32am

    Sad that the Ministerial Code in government is being used to force our ministers into silence on these and other matters. Speaking out at the GE will not save our team from the wrath of the electorate. ‘Too little too late’ will be the cry of the media.

  • David Evershed 11th Nov '14 - 11:05am

    When in coalition you have to pick which topics you want to fight about with your partners.

    Arguing about the terminology used by George Osborne when there is no practical impact is not an issue to die in a ditch for.

  • This whole thing worries me from two viewpoints. Firstly as a pro European party, I would expect us to have experts inside the party who are really on top of this subject area who would have known this was coming, would have known the answer and could have briefed our key MPs about it in advance. So not having anyone who could put forward this to the media is a real disappointment. I find it difficult to imagine that this is the case as, until recently, we had MEPs staff all over the country and surely amongst all these good Lib Dems there was an expert for us to consult.

    Secondly having been “The Party of In” as recently as last May, I would have expected Nick to have been well briefed on all these matters at the time, so even if there wasn’t an “in party expert” on EU Finance, we would have had access to one then, and surely this would have been passed on to Nick in case it arose in the debates with Nigel. All in all, if Nick wanted us to show ourselves as a “party of government” he should have realised that this involves hard work and being on the front foot; not just waiting for a civil servant to brief us on the government line when the crisis comes, leaving us with no alternative but to defend it because we don’t know any better.

  • Mark Argent — it is a shame you added your correction. I was really hoping that this thread would develop into a discussion of guillemots (the auk in Europe). Much more interesting than EU budget trivia!

    Auks are superficially similar to penguins having black-and-white colours, upright posture and some of their habits.

    Auks live on the open sea and only go ashore for breeding, although some species, like the common guillemot, spend a great part of the year defending their nesting spot from others.

    Several species have different names in Europe and North America. The guillemots of Europe are murres in North America, if they occur in both continents, and the little auk becomes the dovekie.

  • Cara Jenkinson 11th Nov '14 - 3:23pm

    Roland – the main point of my article was about the need for honesty in the way EU bills and rebates are presented rather than whether they are right. However I would point out that even at £1.7 billion, the surcharge represents just 0.23% of total annual government spending. I would hope that the calculations done by civil servants went through a similar level of scrutiny as other expenditure items of this amount.

    @David Evans – I would totally agree – I am surprised if we did not have people who could advise and brief parliamentatians properly.

    @David Evershed – we also need to weigh up what impact our stance has on the public’s view on us. Albeit this is really not great at the moment, we should not be making it even worse, particularly on one of ‘our’ issues – Europe.

    @John Tilley – I like the sound of the auk – though perhaps it’s rigorous defence of its nesting spot gives it some UKIP tendencies!!

  • @Cara – I don’t disagree, perhaps a better headline for the article would of been “Lets be honest about the EU budget surcharge”. Because we do need to be honest about how the surcharge has come about and the basis of its calculation.

    Yes £1.7Bn might be just 0.23% of total annual government spend but then child benefit and various other items of expenditure when taken on their own are just as insignificant.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '14 - 7:02pm

    Cara, I agree with you that the truth should be told on the the EU budget surcharge. It was only a small fib, but they are becoming too common. When Blair retired he said “I did what I thought was right” – with Cameron (or Osborne) it is going to be “I did what I thought would work”. Cam and Oz really are like pinky and the brain.

    We need to start looking at both, I think – will it work and is it right. The surcharge exaggeration fiasco failed on both accounts.

  • May & Cameron broken arrest warrant vows, Osborne EU bill con, more spying from Grayling. What’s happened to UK democracy and what are LibDem ministers and MPs doing except keeping quiet?

  • Jumble

    Your question has already been answered by —

    Tony Greaves 10th Nov ’14 – 5:35pm
    ………, the “LD spin” is all too often just the government spinners’ spin. And they basically work for the Tories.

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Nov '14 - 10:06am

    “£1.7Bn might be just 0.23% of total annual government spend but then child benefit and various other items of expenditure when taken on their own are just as insignificant.”

    Well, no. Child Benefit cost £12.2 billion in 2011–12 (see page 10 of this report). And of course the £1.7bn (or indeed, £850m as it turns out to be) isn’t an additional annual amount, it’s a one-off payment in respect of adjustments to the last 20 years’ figures.

    This isn’t just quibbling. There is constant misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the amounts at stake in public spending and throwing around of big numbers without context. Hence the laughable stuff about paying this demand “In instalments” as if that made any difference to its affordability. If you got a £50 bill from your insurance company you might argue about whether you really owed it, but would you really feel it made a difference whether you paid it all now, or £25 next month and £25 next year? That’s the sort of level we’re talking about.

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