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We need to address the abusive relationship rather than just stop the latest punch from Brussels

By Tim Montgomerie

The EU wants more money from Britain. 4.9% more. At a time when nearly every other budget in Britain and in other member states is being cut, the demand is, as George Osborne said, "unacceptable" and (in the words of Martin Callanan MEP quoted in the Metro) "outrageous". Unfortunately because the last Labour government signed away our veto on budgetary matters, it's possible we won't be able to stop all of the increase. We know it won't be 4.9%. We're dealing with classic negotiating tactics here. Brussels is asking for 4.9% in the hope of getting something like 3%.

Osborne promises "the fight will now be joined over the coming weeks" and Tory strategists see the "fight" as an opportunity to re-establish Eurosceptic credentials. Eurosceptics should wish Osborne well in stopping this transfer of even more hard-earned British taxpayers' money* - a transfer to French hobby farmers, ineffective regional aid programmes and other unaudited EU projects** - but we shouldn't allow the Government to present this as serious Euroscepticism.

Britain is an abusive relationship with Europe. Brussels keeps hitting us with more and more demands. Stopping this latest blow is a sticking-plaster-dealing-with-the-symptoms diversion. The nature of the relationship is the fundamental problem. Ministers increasingly realise this. One senior aide in Downing Street told me that in order of problems for Tory ministers, relations with the Lib Dems get third place. The number two problem is the Whitehall bureaucracy and the equality and other laws that have mushroomed in the last few decades (including Dominic Grieve's unwillingness to stand up to Whitehall lawyers). Problem number one are European rules, red tape and bureaucrats. You don't have to agree with my source's ranking to get a sense of the real frustration at Europe. Whether it's the budget, votes-for-prisoners, controlling immigration, protecting the City from dangerous regulation or reviving the UK fishing industry, the EU is a massive problem. Only when the Tory leadership is seeking a fundamental resetting of Britain's relationship with the EU will it deserve to be seen as Eurosceptic. 

* Dan Hannan blogs that "withholding our contribution [to the EU] would allow us to cancel every spending cut and still knock a third off council tax."

** The Telegraph notes: "Last year, European auditors asked the Commission to recover “at least” £595million “that should not have been paid to the regional projects - ranging from road building to training the unemployed. Audits of EU funded projects for 2009 found “quantifiable errors” affecting £9.5billion of spending, with “non-respect of public procurement rules” calling into question contracts worth £4billion. Nine out of 10 audited road building projects across the EU were identified as proceeding with “unlawful use of award criteria” despite the breach of rules being detected before contracts were paid."


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