The UK government is to be fined a total of £36m in respect of late payment of EU monies to farmers.

But an EU Commission spokesman was quick to point out that the fine was in relation to subsidies paid in 2003 and 2004 – and was nothing to do with the late delivery of the 2005 single farm payment.

“These fines pre-date the single farm payment,” he said. “They relate to failure to meet payment deadlines in 2003 and 2004, plus a very small amount for overshooting financial ceilings in 2004.”

The UK is one of 14 member states being penalised a total of €285m (£194m) in the latest “clearance of accounts” by the EU Commission.

“We have been working very hard to ensure the best possible control over farm spending,” said EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

“The clearance procedure is a vital process in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is used properly and that incorrectly spent amounts are recovered.”

The biggest fine is being levied on Spain, which is being charged €61m (£41m) for late payments of aid for nuts. France is being fined €8.7m (£5.9m) for weak controls under the over-30-months slaughter scheme.

NFU chief legal advisor Julie Robinson said it was still unclear what exactly the UK fines related to, though it clearly had nothing to do with SFPs.

“Only when the RPA has finished paying out 2005 SFPs will anyone be able to do a calculation as to what late payment fines will be due,” she said.