David Cameron furiously rejected a demand from Brussels for more than two billion euros in backdated charges at a summit Friday, setting up a new showdown over Britain's place in the EU.
The prime minister hijacked a meeting that was meant to be focused on Europe's stalling economy, saying the "unacceptable" bill was a surprise and that Britain was being punished for running a successful economy.
But his stance triggered a major clash, with other leaders telling him to pay up and the head of the powerful European Commission insisting Cameron knew about the 2.1 billion euro ($2.6 billion) demand in advance.
"I am not paying that bill on the first of December. If people think that is going to happen they've got another thing coming," Cameron told a news conference, thumping the lectern and going red in the face.
"We are not suddenly going to take out our chequebook and write a cheque for two billion euros, it is not happening."The clash, which sources said held up the summit for around an hour, stole the limelight from a landmark European Union deal on climate change targets and a pledge to give one billion euros to fight Ebola.
It renews questions over Britain's vexed membership of the 28-member EU, which Cameron has vowed to put to a referendum in 2017 if he wins a general election next May.
Britain's bill is the biggest of those imposed on several EU nations as a result of a revision in the way in which the economic output of member states is measured. It now includes previously hidden elements such as drugs and prostitution, and the overall performance of the economy.
Adding insult to injury for Britain, France will be owed 1.0 billion euros by the EU while Germany -- the bloc's biggest economy -- gets a rebate of 779 million euros.
Cameron insisted Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Dutch premier Mark Rutte and the leaders of Greece, Malta and other countries hit by the bills had supported him. 'No surprise'
Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the powerful European Commission which made the demands, confirmed that EU finance ministers would meet to discuss the issue, as Cameron had demanded.
But he dismissed the British leader's insistence that he only found out about the bill when he got to the summit on Thursday, saying London was fully aware of the rule change.
"This should not have come as a surprise for member states," Barroso told reporters.French President Francois Hollande led a chorus of EU leaders who urged Britain to play by the rules.
"Respect for the treaties is not for others, it is for everyone," Hollande said.
Cameron even appeared to alienate his ally Renzi, after the Italian premier denied ever saying that the EU's demand was a "lethal weapon", which Cameron had quoted him as saying.
The British leader however insisted repeatedly that his country, one of the largest contributors to the EU budget, had been treated unacceptably.He said the EU "should not be surprised when some of its members say it cannot continue like that and that it has got to change".
The comment appeared to allude to the referendum that Cameron has offered Britons in a bid to stave off a growing threat to his Conservative party from the British eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Farage said the demand showed the EU was a "thirsty vampire".
A European source suggested Cameron's public display of anger was motivated by domestic politics.
There was "complete disproportion between what he said in the (summit) room and during the press conference. Huge difference of tone," the source said on condition of anonymity.
"But in the EUCO (European Council summit) there is no UKIP," the source added.
The battle overshadowed discussions on boosting Europe's stalling economy with a promise by incoming European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to unveil a 300 billion euro ($380 billion) investment plan by Christmas.
On Friday, the EU also agreed to boost its aid for Ebola-hit west Africa to one billion euros and name an Ebola "czar".
The EU leaders on Thursday overcame deep divisions to agree on cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent compared to 1990 levels, paving the way for a UN-backed global treaty in Paris in 2015.