Last Wednesday wasn’t supposed to be spectacular at all. The House of Commons was to be dissolved in preparation for the snap election on June 8th. Wednesday was the last moment to do that, given the 36 day minimum prescribed for campaigning between a dissolution and an election.
However, Prime Minister Theresa May turned the occasion into an act of dramatic magnitude. In front of Downing Street she looked stern and her words sounded determined. She said, the next Prime Minister would be confronted with one task above all else. To get the best possible Brexit deal. The past few days had shown how tough those negotiations were bound to become. She had said as much before. Now, though, she went a step further. The negotiating position of her government had not only been misrepresented in the “continental press”.
European politicians had in fact “issued threats” against Britain. And the ultimate bombshell: “All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the results of the General Election.” Europe, according to May, is manipulating the British election. An outrageous accusation.
The conflict started at a dinner in Downing Street last week
This was the definitive escalation of a fight that had started a week before during a dinner in Downing street. This paper covered the dinner in its previous edition and was probably what May was referring to as the “continental press”. When May was first confronted with the matter on Monday she called the whole affair “Brussels gossip”. A smart move, that way May could ignore the content of the leaks and still retained the option of sending her negotiators to Brussels after the election without much ado about it. Because in spite of all the commotion caused by the report, the public is quick to forget. Nobody knows that better than politicians. Yet, 48 hours later May suddenly changed course. She went on the offensive.
David Davis put it this way during a BBC interview: “But then we had further briefings that we would have to pay a hundred billion, the Prime Minister would not be able to negotiate. And eventually we got to the point where the line was crossed. Clearly, what was happening was the Commission was trying to bully the British people.”
It seems plausible that the inflated bill is what did it for the government. When the Brexit bill ballooned from 60 to 100 billion Euros, as published first in the “Financial Times”, that crossed a line. But Davis’ conclusion was still wrong.
That’s because the Commission isn’t responsible for the new demands. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier actually fought the bigger bill behind closed doors. He wanted to include in his tally only assets that London is legally obligated to cover. That includes all past financial commitments and a big position from the structural fund submitted for the budgets of 2019 and 2020. So it concerns the time period after the Brits will have left the EU.
That’s where the money for investment in businesses, the support for minorities and infrastructure projects comes from. The Commission agrees with the member states at the beginning of a fiscal period – each lasting seven years – on how the funds are to be allocated.
Money for agriculture should not be part of the bill
It’s a different story for the money that farms and agricultural businesses receive. In the current year their share totals nearly 60 billion Euros, about a third of the overall budget. These expenses need to be reapproved every year. So London has yet to give its OK. That’s why Barnier omitted them from his calculations. But the EU member states whose farmers profit the most from these funds put pressure on the Frenchman. They argued hat the payments are in fact a part of the farmers’ property. The value of a farm depends mainly on the uniform payment per hectare, whereas it’s of little import how much milk their cows produce.