There's a surprising amount of agreement among people on both the Right and the Left that George Osborne is attempting to pull a confidence trick over the EU's £1.7bn demand:
Dan Hannan, Conservative: "The EU sticks us with a bill. Ministers double it, apply the rebate, return to the original figure and claim victory. We're meant to cheer?"
Nigel Farage, UKIP: "Osborne trying to spin his way out of disaster. UK still paying full £1.7bn, his credibility is about to nose dive".
Ed Balls, Labour: "By counting the rebate Britain was due anyway, they are desperately trying to claim that the backdated bill for £1.7bn has somehow been halved. But nobody will fall for this smoke and mirrors. The rebate was never in doubt and in fact was confirmed by the EU Budget Commissioner last month."
Sarah Montague tackled Mr Osborne about this on this morning's Today and, it has to be said, she didn't display the 'hands-off' style of interviewing used by Justin Webb on Peter Hain yesterday. Interruptions and challenges came with considerable regularity.
Now, however unconvincing Mr Osborne's denials of his own foreknowledge about the rebate may be (a rebate that his critics say would inevitably have led to a halving of the demand to a 'mere' £850m), he certainly did have a point when he said:
This is why all the critics of the government are trying to show wisdom after the event. This show has been on air for the past couple of weeks talking about the contribution that Britain was going to have to make. Every single headline you've had, every person who came on this programme, says that Britain is going to have to pay £1.7bn and instead we're paying £850m...If everyone was saying, 'Of course it's only going to be £850m', how come no one reported it, no one said it in parliament?
That is a fair point, isn't it (even if he really did know about the rebate all along)? Why did none of great experts on matters European in the British media, including all those all-knowing BBC reporters, not see the rebate coming? Why did no one mention it on the Today programme until now?
Sarah Montague half-conceded the point:
George Osborne: Not a single person said that on the Today programme [that we were inevitably going to get that rebate and that reduction to £850m].
Sarah Montague: What did you think? We might have got it wrong, but did you get it wrong?
The 'wisdom after the event' may be pulling the threads out of George Osborne's rabbit-filled hat, but why was there absolutely no 'wisdom before the event' from the Today programme (or anyone else)? Why did Gavin Hewitt, Nick Robinson et al, fail to see the rabbit before George Osborne pulled it out of his hat?
Well, that's what I'm wondering anyhow.