EU cost put at pounds 38bn

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Membership of the European Union has cost Britain a total of pounds 38bn since joining in 1973, according to Treasury figures which yesterday poured more fuel on the fire of Tory Euro-scepticism, writes John Rentoul.

Sir Peter Tapsell, the moderately sceptical Tory MP for Lindsey East, urged the Prime Minister in the Commons to "suspend net contributions until such time as all threats to our international position as a trading nation are withdrawn".

John Major rejected the demand, saying it would be struck down by the British courts, and not the European Court of Justice, the object of much Tory hostility. He insisted the right course was to continue to press for the beef ban to be lifted.

But disclosure of the inflation-adjusted net total will reinforce the clamour for a referendum. David Shaw, the Euro-sceptic MP whose question prompted the disclosure, said: "This sum is horrendous. We can't afford it. This club is turning out to be very expensive, and many people will ask how many jobs will have been lost as a result."