The Guardian reports that Cameron was ‘surprised?’ Anyone buy that?
David Cameron admitted that he had been left in the dark by George Osborne for two days as he complained that he had been hijacked by Brussels over an unexpected demand to pay £1.7bn (€2.1bn) to the EU.
The prime minister said he would refuse to comply with the sudden bill, which he first learned about on Thursday, but questions were raised about Whitehall’s competence once it emerged that the chancellor had known since Tuesday. Labour said ministers should have expected the higher bill months ago.
At a press conference in Brussels, with Cameron’s face growing increasingly red as he became more and more animated, the prime minister denounced the conduct of the European commission. “It’s a €2bn bill. It gets presented with a month to go,” he said. “That is not an acceptable way to behave and it’s not an acceptable sum of money.”
Asked to explain why he had been left in the dark by the Treasury, Cameron replied: “You want to know the ‘who knew what whens’ and all the rest of it but actually, frankly, you don’t need a Cluedo set to know that someone has been clubbed with the lead piping in the library.”
The demand comes as Cameron is wrestling with dilemmas over Britain’s future in Europe and making increasingly Eurosceptic gestures to the restless backbenchers who want to deal with Nigel Farage’s Europe rejectionists. It comes weeks before a crucial byelection in Rochester and Strood, Kent, in which Ukip is fighting for its second parliamentary seat and with Cameron under increasing pressure by his party’s right to leave the EU.
The prime minister sought to regain control by blaming the EU. “It is an unacceptable way for this organisation to work – to suddenly present a bill like this for such a vast sum of money with so little time to pay it. And it is an unacceptable way to treat one of the biggest contributors to the European Union. It is an appalling way to behave. I am not paying that bill on 1 December. If people think I am they have got another think coming.”
European commission president José Manuel Barroso said the call for an additional payment should not have come as a surprise to Britain as member states’ contributions were adjusted in this way each year in the autumn. “Sometimes countries have to give more money. Sometimes they receive much more money,” he said.
A few hours later , as the prime minister visited the constituency of Rochester and Strood, Cameron signalled he might be prepared to compromise.
Asked if Britain would eventually pay up, he suggested that a lower sum could be acceptable. “If it is two billion euros, no we are not.
“That is not acceptable. We do have these changes where they look at how economies have grown. Sometimes you pay a little bit more, sometimes you pay a little bit less. But it has never happened like this before, with a €2bn bill,” he said.