The draconian financial punishment was imposed because Brussels bean counters claimed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had failed to properly administer EU farm payments.
The huge fine was last night (Mon) branded “hypocrisy of the first order” as the European Court of Auditors has failed to give the EU a clean bill of health for the past 19 years.
Details of the fines were uncovered by Whitehall’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO).
“Disallowance penalties” imposed by the European Commission on payments made to farmers in England had cost £642 million since 2005, the NAO said.
Overall, it said that the UK had the sixth worst record of the 28 EU member states with 2.70 of every 100 received under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) being returned to Brussels in the form of fines.
Only Greece, Romania, Portugal, Bulgaria and Cyprus had sustained higher rates of penalties.
Defra is considering investing up to £45 million, which it believes could save future penalties for England of between £215 million and £370 million in the period to 2021.
However the NAO warned that a new system of CAP payments introduced earlier year was more complex than its predecessor and was expected to result in a higher rate of fines – at least in the early years.