8 Nov 2014

Osborne: EU budget deal was ‘real win’

The chancellor insists government negotiators succeeded in halving a £1.7bn bill from the European Union, after criticism from across the political spectrum.

George Osborne (Reuters)

Mr Osborne was accused of deceiving the taxpayer by Labour, Ukip and Conservative critics, after saying that he struck a deal with the EU to only pay £850m of a £1.7bn contribution demanded after historic figures for the UK’s gross national income were revised upwards.

Critics claimed the reduction has only been achieved by bringing forward a rebate to which the UK would have been entitled anyway.

The truth is, as always, we have achieved a real win for British taxpayers. George Osborne

But Mr Osborne told the BBC: “The truth is, as always, we have achieved a real win for British taxpayers and having achieved it everyone says ‘oh, of course you were always going to achieve that’.

“But it took a lot of hard discussion, a lot of hard negotiation and it shows that when this government sets out a goal in Europe it goes and achieves it.”

Mr Osborne said it had not been clear going in to the negotiations in Brussels that Britain’s rebate was going to apply to the £1.7bn surcharge.

He said: “It was a real doubt about whether the rebate would apply, apply to the extent it has applied. We have got this bill halved.”

The chancellor’s account of the Brussels negotiations differed from other EU finance ministers who attended them.

It’s not as if the British have been given a discount. Jeroen Dijsselbloem

Ireland’s finance minister Michael Noonan said he believed that the UK “will pay the whole amount” while Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said: “It’s not as if the British have been given a discount”.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: “”No other EU finance minister or independent commentator has gone along with his attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

“The fact is not a single penny has been saved for the taxpayer compared to two weeks ago.

“The EU budget commissioner was very clear last month, in a statement on these backdated revisions, that the UK rebate would apply as normal. The EU vice-president has also made clear the rebate was never in doubt.

“David Cameron and George Osborne have failed to get a better deal for the British taxpayer and instead of coming clean they’re desperately trying to save some face. Their attempts to fool people have now totally unravelled.”

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: “Osborne (is) trying to spin his way out of disaster. UK still paying full #1.7 billion, his credibility is about to nose-dive.

“Borrowing what we are rightfully owed in the future to pay an unfair bill being levied now is not a victory. It’s a sham.”

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan said:”The EU sticks us with a bill. Ministers double it, apply the rebate, return to the original figure and claim victory. We’re meant to cheer?” said Mr Hannan.

“Britain is worse off in absolute terms, but a straw man has been knocked down. A prelude to how the pro-EU side will fight the referendum.”