“The European Parliament has insisted on a higher budget than the one set by the Council, and the first thing is to say that is not acceptable and to build a majority on that Council to get that budget down again. This would be easier if Labour MEPs did not keep voting for higher budgets, as they had this week.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, PMQs, 27 October
“I have to say he’d have a bit more credibility on controlling the public finances if his (Labour) colleagues in the European Parliament hadn’t just voted for the 6 per cent rise in the European budget.”
Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, Commons, 28 October
The EU’s institutions, and member states, are currently involved in prolonged horsetrading over next year’s European budget.
It is 122.9bn euros this year, and the Commission and Parliament are proposing a six per cent rise to 130.1bn in 2011.
The Council of Ministers (finance ministers from throughout the EU) is arguing for the increase to be restricted to three per cent.
David Cameron wants a cash freeze next year, but Britain doesn’t have a veto, and it’s likely a compromise will be reached.
The Prime Minister and Treasury Chief Secretary were referring to a vote held in the European Parliament on 20 October.
MEPs were voting on the proposal to increase the size of the budget by six per cent.
Voting records show Labour Euro-MPs voted against this, as did Conservative and Liberal Democrat MEPs.
But on an amendment proposed by Conservative MEPs to freeze the budget at 2010 levels (in other words, cut it in real terms), Labour MEPs voted against. Instead, they proposed a 1bn euro cut in agricultural subsidies.
Of the eight Lib Dem MEPs who voted, seven voted for the amendment, while one voted against.
When Mr Cameron made his point in the Commons, the implication was that Labour MEPs had voted for a six per cent rise in the EU budget. Mr Alexander was even clearer.
They hadn’t: in fact they had voted against. But Labour MEPs opposed a Conservative amendment to freeze the budget at 2010 levels.
By failing to support this amendment, it could be argued, in the Prime Minister’s words, that they were “voting for higher budgets”.
But the amendment never had any chance of going through, given the size of the vote in favour of increasing the budget by six per cent (546 in favour-88 against).
Our verdict has to be fiction on this occasion.