Sunday 8 December 2019

Confusion as UK 'spins' concessions over EU bill

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne

Colm Kelpie

AN apparently triumphant George Osborne yesterday hailed a victory for Britain after claiming to have struck a deal that would see it pay just half of a controversial EU budget bill.

But his claim to have won a discount was shot down by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who said Britain still had to pay the full amount.

The UK Chancellor said the UK will now pay just £850m (€1.08bn) instead of the £1.7bn bill Europe demanded from Britain over two instalments next year, instead of by the December 1 deadline.

The confusion appears to be over treatment of an annual rebate the UK gets from Europe, but which next year will be off-set against the controversial £1.7bn (€2.1bn) bill.

During a meeting with fellow ministers, Mr Osborne used social media to claim that the deal was a "result for Britain".

"As PM (Prime Minister David Cameron) said, EU bill unacceptable. Now we've halved the bill, delayed the bill & will pay no interest on the bill. Result for Britain," he tweeted.

"We'll get full British rebate - paid upfront. We will pay c£850m total, in instalments in 2nd half of next year."

France said the deal would allow Britain until September 2015 to pay the bill, allowing Prime Minister David Cameron to save face ahead of the next general election.

But while Mr Osborne claimed the amount Britain was paying was halved, others begged to differ, including Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

"Progress was made, there was political agreement that there wouldn't be a requirement for countries that were surcharged to pay by December 1," Mr Noonan said.

"There was particular reference to the UK and the Netherlands, and the account may be settled now by instalments over 2015.

"Effectively, the political problem has been solved. My understanding is that the UK will pay the whole amount, but there will be no penalties attached or interest rate on that."

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said there was no discount.

"He (Osborne) still has to pay a big amount and he didn't negotiate a discount today and no discount has been awarded. Britain has had this rebate system for a very long time," the Dutch minister said.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage accused Mr Osborne of "trying to spin his way out of disaster".

Irish Independent

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