Giving up European Council presidency will save UK £83.5m, claims Lord Forsyth

Lord Forsyth. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Lord Forsyth. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A prominent Brexiteer has claimed the UK giving up its presidency of the European Council next year will save British taxpayers up to 100 million euro (£83.5 million).

Tory former Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth of Drumlean waded in to defend the government as it faced criticism over its decision to relinquish the role in the second half of 2017.

Labour questioned the move at a time when the UK needed to be “as strong and as influential as possible” to secure the best deal following the decision to leave the bloc.

There was also criticism from the Conservative benches, with one Tory grandee warning against the “cavalier treatment” of Parliament, after ministers had previously indicated to peers no decision was imminent.

But Lord Forsyth said: “As a result of this decision, which I very much welcome, not only will officials be able to concentrate on Brexit, but also the taxpayers will be saved the cost of the presidency which would be up to 100 million euro.”

Lord Bridges of Headley, minister for the newly created Department for Exiting the European Union (DfEEU), said the estimated costs of holding recent presidencies ranged between 35 million and 170 million euro.

He also said during the Irish presidency, it had held 374 meetings and used 111 hours of ministerial time in the European Parliament alone.

Lord Bridges told peers: “The government concluded it would be difficult for us to hold the presidency while prioritising our negotiations to leave the EU.”

But tackling the government over the move, shadow Lords leader Baroness Smith of Basildon said: “As we prepare to enter into negotiations, we need to be as strong and as influential as possible to get the best possible deal and the best benefits for the UK.”

Lord Bridges said: “The government has decided it would not be possible to chair discussions on the future of Europe in a dispassionate way when everyone around the table knows our country is leaving the EU.

“To do so would not be in Europe’s interests, nor in our own.”

Conservative peer Lord Cormack said only on Tuesday the minister had indicated a decision was “some little time off”.