With truly dreadful timing, the European Commission has sprung David Cameron with a demand for £1.7 billion in extra British budget payments to the EU. The commission says this amount is due because the British economy has performed better than forecast. But this unexpected demand is for serious money, an almost 20 per cent increase in the British contribution.
If Britain pays up, Christmas will have come early for Nigel Farage and Ukip. This explains why all three Westminster parties have been so quick to denounce the demand as unacceptable. There are mutterings of legal challenges and the like.
The money is due by December 1. But politically, I don’t think the government can afford to pay.
Cameron, who has form when it comes to rallying member states against the commission’s budgetary proposals, is going to have to find a way to block this. A complicating factor for him is that his usual fiscally responsible northern alliance isn’t available on this occasion, as Germany is one of the countries seeing its contributions reduced. Cameron, though, has little choice but to stand and fight the commission on this matter.