The EU Surcharge Furore: Who Knew What When?

Could the furore about the £1.8 billion EU surcharge on the UK be a manufactured one?

The rules for calculating the UK’s GDP were revised several months ago, resulting in an uplift in measured GDP stretching back several years.  These revisions have resulted in the surcharge.

It must be the case that the relevant government departments, civil servants and ministers spent months deliberating over the GDP revisions.  It must also be the case that they identified the consequences for the UK’s contribution to the EU budget.  In which case many people, including ministers, must have been aware for several months that an EU surcharge would be imposed.  If I am wrong about this, could someone please enlighten me?

If I am right, then the government must have had a strategy for releasing the news at some time – possibly in this year’s Autumn Statement, due to be issued by George Osborne on 3rd December?  They might have intended to present it as a “modest” £150 million per year “adjustment” backdated for several years.  Was this plan scuppered by a premature announcement of the EU surcharge by the European Commission?

I suspect that all will be revealed in due course and this will turn out to have been a massive communications failure.  If a country’s EU budget contributions are indeed determined by reference to GDP figures, and rules agreed to in the past by the UK government have led to the EU surcharge, then I do not see how the UK government can refuse to pay up.  Instead, the whole issue has become a lighting rod for Eurosceptics in the Tory party and UKIP supporters in general who wish the UK to leave the EU.

A further possibility that has occurred to me is that ministers deliberately held back on revealing the likely EU surcharge until it was formally notified by the European Commission, so that they could take advantage of it in the Rochester by-election campaign.  This seems most unlikely, partly because Danny Alexander, a LibDem Treasury Minister, must also have known about the likely EU surcharge, and the LibDems as staunch supporters of the UK’s EU membership would have had no interest in news of the EU surcharge being released in an uncontrolled way.

In any case, I expect that all will soon be revealed.

Michael Ingle –

Categories: EU, Politics

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