David Cameron speaks during his press conference on the EU in Brussels earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Cameron admits that the Treasury kept him in the dark over £1.7bn EU bill

The PM found out about the demand several days later than George Osborne. 

Aside from his visible fury at the EU landing him with a bill for an extra £1.7bn in membership contributions, the most notable thing about David Cameron's press conference in Brussels was his admission of a communication breakdown inside the government. While Cameron only learned of the budgetary demand yesterday, he confirmed that the Treasury knew of it several days earlier:

The first that I saw of it was yesterday, Thursday, and my instant reaction was to look at the other countries that are being treated in this way and to form an alliance with them and put a stop to this European Council so it could be properly discussed and an emergency meeting of finance ministers could be established.

Yes, the Treasury had this information a little bit earlier but I don't seek to single people out and say 'Why didn't you tell me this?' or 'Why didn't you tell me that?'.

When this information comes in the first thing they do is try to check it and sort it.

I think, frankly, it is a bit of a red herring. You can all do '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.

George Osborne revealed on Sky News earlier that he was "told on Tuesday", while Danny Alexander said he was informed of it "over the past couple of days". "It's something that's only formally been handed over in that period." One wonders if Cameron is as content with his ministers keeping him in the dark as his public comments suggest.

While the timing of the demand and the order for payment by 1 December has come as a surprise, the request itself should not have done. The Treasury knew months ago that the British economy had been reclassified as around £10bn larger than previously thought (owing to the inclusion of illegal activities such as prostitution and drug dealing) and that a higher EU membership fee would result. 

And for all Cameron's protestations, the government will surely pay up (if likely later than 1 December). The demand is entirely consistent with the principle that member states should contribute according to ability to pay. The complaint from the Tories that the UK is being "punished for success" is no more acceptable than a individual complaining that they are being forced to pay more tax when their income rises. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Dave's picnic with Dacre

Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

Sulking David Cameron can’t forgive the Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, for his role in his downfall. The unrelenting hostility of the self-appointed voice of Middle England to the Remain cause felt pivotal to the defeat. So, what a glorious coincidence it was that they found themselves picnicking a couple of motors apart before England beat Scotland at Twickenham. My snout recalled Cameron studiously peering in the opposite direction. On Dacre’s face was the smile of an assassin. Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

The good news is that since Jeremy Corbyn let Theresa May off the Budget hook at Prime Minister’s Questions, most of his MPs no longer hate him. The bad news is that many now openly express their pity. It is whispered that Corbyn’s office made it clear that he didn’t wish to sit next to Tony Blair at the unveiling of the Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial in London. His desire for distance was probably reciprocated, as Comrade Corbyn wanted Brigadier Blair to be charged with war crimes. Fighting old battles is easier than beating the Tories.

Brexit is a ticket to travel. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is lifting its three-trip cap on funded journeys to Europe for MPs. The idea of paying for as many cross-Channel visits as a politician can enjoy reminds me of Denis MacShane. Under the old limits, he ended up in the clink for fiddling accounts to fund his Continental missionary work. If the new rule was applied retrospectively, perhaps the former Labour minister should be entitled to get his seat back and compensation?

The word in Ukip is that Paul Nuttall, OBE VC KG – the ridiculed former Premier League professional footballer and England 1966 World Cup winner – has cold feet after his Stoke mauling about standing in a by-election in Leigh (assuming that Andy Burnham is elected mayor of Greater Manchester in May). The electorate already knows his Walter Mitty act too well.

A senior Labour MP, who demanded anonymity, revealed that she had received a letter after Leicester’s Keith Vaz paid men to entertain him. Vaz had posed as Jim the washing machine man. Why, asked the complainant, wasn’t this second job listed in the register of members’ interests? She’s avoiding writing a reply.

Years ago, this column unearthed and ridiculed the early journalism of George Osborne, who must be the least qualified newspaper editor in history. The cabinet lackey Ben “Selwyn” Gummer’s feeble intervention in the Osborne debate has put him on our radar. We are now watching him and will be reporting back. My snouts are already unearthing interesting information.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution