David Cameron has implied he may pay a percentage of the £1.7bn bill Britain was handed at the recent meeting of the European Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister was adamant he would question how the figure was arrived at and told the House of Commons “won’t be paying anything like” the total bill, suggesting a deal over a smaller figure might be agreeable.
In a statement to MPs Cameron pledged to “crawl through” the methodology behind the bill and “challenge it in every way possible”. He also confirmed “Britain will not be paying £1.7bn to anyone on 1st December”, the deadline set by the European Union.
The figure has come about because the EU has included the ‘black economy’ in its assessment of the UK’s wealth. This means the figure on which the country is being taxed includes the proceeds of crime such as drug dealing, prostitution and robbery.
Cameron continued to adopt the angry tone he had used when he first heard about the bill. But the opposition questioned whether the government had known about the bill before his arrival at the summit on Friday.
Ed Miliband said the Treasury had known months in advance and produced a number of letters that he said proved it. In the House of Commons he said of Cameron: “For all his bluster he has been asleep at the wheel and the British people are paying the price”.
Miliband accused the Prime Minister of failing to do the job properly. He claimed his actions on the bill “followed a familiar pattern… Month after month were he doesn’t do the work, then last minute pyrotechnics when things go wrong.”
A number of countries were handed larger bills by the EU as they adjusted their membership fees, but the biggest contributors are expected to be Britain and Holland. The Dutch Prime Minister has already indicated his country is likely to pay around £500m if the figure can be proved to be properly calculated.
Although Cameron can delay payment the UK is signed up the treaties which mean the country is obliged to pay the bill. Any refusal to pay would lead to heavy fines, enforced through the European Courts. Ignoring the rulings of the courts would land the UK in uncharted constitutional territory.