“It was not the easy thing to do but it was the right thing to do.” So said David Cameron at a stormy session in Britain’s parliament, explaining his decision not to agree to an EU deal on economic and fiscal reform in Europe.
“London is the leading sector for financial services in the world,” the prime minister said. “Satisfactory safeguards were not forthcoming so I did not agree to the treaty.
“I went to Brussels with one objective – to protect Britain’s national interest. And that is what I did. I do not believe there is a binary choice for Britain that we can either sacrifice the national interest on issue after issue or lose our influence at the heart of Europe’s negotiating process. I am absolutely clear that it is possible to be a both a full, committed and influential member of the EU but to stay out of arrangements where they do not protect our interests.”
Critics of Cameron believe his opt-out has isolated the UK in the bloc and created the biggest rift in his coalition since he took power in May last year.
Nick Clegg, leader of Cameron’s coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, has already criticised Cameron’s move to block European treaty changes as “bad for Britain” and his party members are believed to be growing increasingly disenchanted with their alliance with Cameron’s Conservatives.
According to our London correspondent Ali Sheikholeslami, Deputy Prime Minister Clegg has been under growing pressure from all ranks his party who have felt for the past 19 months of the coalition government that they have given away too much of what they stand for. The Lib Dems were not able to stop a move by Tories to hike university tuition fees threefold, to which they have lost a lot of backing and been accused of betraying their young supporters.
Cameron’s performance in Brussels had a dividing effect within the Conservative party. As much as it may have been a reason to celebrate for Eurosceptic lawmakers such as John Redwood, who has already asked Cameron to start “renegotiating a new relationship with the EU”, the Guardian newspaper cited an unnamed source as saying that the Conservative, pro-EU Justice Minister Ken Clarke may also consider resigning over his boss’s stance.
Clegg was absent as Cameron attempted to justify his European position in the House of Commons, a fact not lost on opposition leader Ed Miliband. Miliband spoke immediately after Cameron’s speech. “He has come back with a bad deal for Britain,” he told the house. “Far from protecting our interests, he has left us without a voice.”
Miliband called the outcome of the summit a “diplomatic disaster”, adding that what Cameron did was not a veto, but it was “losing, being defeated, letting Britain down”.
A close aide to Clegg told euronews that Clegg “didn’t want his appearance to be a distraction” at today’s parliamentary session.