George Osborne went to Brussels today to try to negotiate a ‘better deal for Britain’ with regards to the £1.7bn the EU has said the UK owes due to statistical revisions over the last 20 years. Osborne came out of his meeting triumphant, saying he had negotiated a reduction of 50% which would be interest free, with payments staggered over 2 years.
It took about half an hour for Osborne’s claims to unravel after a number of his counterparts in other EU countries revealed that the £1.7bn bill was in fact unchanged, but that the UK’s ‘rebate’ had also been revised, and would total £850m, and that this was always the case. Originally then, the UK would have paid £1.7bn, and then receive a rebate of £850m. Now, after George Osborne’s shrewd negotiating, we will pay £850m and forego the rebate. Still sound like a good deal?
I had wondered whether this latest EU controversy had been engineered by Cameron and Osborne to make the look like they could stand up to Europe and win concessions to appease the right of the party and try to win back some of the UKIP vote. If so it has rather spectacularly backfired.
Osborne makes clear in his announcement today that he thinks we are all idiots and won’t be able to see through an obvious ruse. It doesn’t bode very well for Cameron’s hopes to renegotiate Britain’s role in the EU in advance of a possible referendum in 2017. It seems pretty clear the other nations of the EU have no intention of giving Cameron what he wants, and now view him as a bit of a joke (if they didn’t already). Far from bringing back his detractors into the fold, this latest stunt is more likely to drive people further away.