Richard North, 04/11/2014  

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"It is a statistical process that had an unprecedented result", an unnamed Italian source tells The Times, trying to bring some sense to the increasingly bizarre tale of the £1.7bn bill from Brussels, with the Guardian running an almost identical story.

"There is a widespread willingness to find a solution to this issue", the source says, given a certain prominence because of the rotating presidency. "There will be work all week on this - the new Commission is committed to finding a solution", he says.

On the other hand, Commission spokeswoman Margaritis Schinas says that London faces penalty charges if it does not pay up, confirming that the deadline is still 1 December 1. When asked if the payment was legally binding, she said: "The answer is yes". Britain would have to pay 2.5 percent to begin with, rising by 0.25 percentage points each month the money is unpaid, starting from 1 January 2015.

Back with the Italian source, we are cautioned that a deal has not been done. "You need to find a legal solution and that is not yet there", he adds, pointing the way to yet another fantasy outcome.

Meanwhile, George Osborne has been unrolling another fantasy, this one to BBC's Newsnight, telling us that Britain had joined the EU as an "economic proposition" rather than signing up to a political project.

Other countries joined for different reasons, he said. "When it's not working economically for Britain, that’s why we get this debate about the membership of the EU. I'm someone who wants to stay in the EU ... but it has to be a reformed EU. I think it is causing problems for us".

And this is why we're getting nowhere here. The Italians are pretending that we are not going to have to pay some money that the Commission is saying we must, while Osborne is pretending we joined the EU "economic proposition" when, quite obviously, we joined a political project.

Everybody is pretending here that their particular corner of the EU is something it isn't, and then to cap it all, Osborne joins with his boss in lusting after something neither of them can have – a reformed EU. One of these days, these people are going to grow up, face reality and talk about the EU as it really is, rather than they would like it to be – or think it should be. Then, perhaps we might just start making some progress. But, as always, it would be unwise to hold our breath.


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