Today, as a result of negotiations with EU finance ministers over the UK’s additional contribution to the EU budget following upward revisions to UK GDP, George Osborne said:
“Today I can say this: instead of footing the bill, we have halved the bill, we have delayed the bill, we will pay no interest on the bill.”
This would have been quite a result, given that any reduction in the UK’s contribution would have meant some other EU countries getting less than they expected. All the more remarkable given that the Financial Times reports that:
“Officials involved in the closed-door negotiations between finance ministers said Mr Osborne did not complain about the overall bill. Instead, the debate focused on delaying the payment, which will allow the British government to pay after the general election in May.”
So was “halving the bill” a last minute gift from other EU finance ministers? Had the Commission gifted the UK some money without telling anyone else what it intended to do? Neither, of course. The Chancellor had made that bit up. He had simply subtracted the UK rebate, which the UK was going to get anyway. Treasury officials tried to suggest that this rebate had been in doubt before separate talks with the Commission, but the FT reports Commission officials as saying that the rebate was never, ever in doubt.
So while the rest of the world reported that the UK had failed to get its additional contribution cut, the UK media dutifully repeated the Chancellor’s claim that it had been halved. BBC journalists were clearly suspicious about what had gone on, so their website led with “Osborne's EU budget claim challenged”. But they couldn’t bring themselves to actually report that Osborne’s claim to have negotiated a halving of our additional contribution was wrong. After all, he is the UK Chancellor, so surely he wouldn’t pretend he had done something he had not. Some lowly MP might play fast and loose with numbers, but not the man in charge of the UK’s finances. I suspect many in the media have still not fully appreciated what a unique Chancellor George Osborne is.
When the UK’s leading supermarket chain, Tesco, discovered that they may have overstated their profits by mistiming some payments, four senior executives, including its UK managing director, were suspended while the matter was investigated. "Disappointment would be an understatement," said Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis. So will the UK’s chief executive, David Cameron, be reprimanding the Chancellor over his false claims? No, because given the stress that Cameron put on reducing the total additional contribution just before the negotiations, it is clear he was in on the deceit. Unlike Tesco, they think this kind of deception is just part and parcel of their business, and of course they also think that they can get away with it.