Prime Minister David Cameron has defended Britain’s ‘go- it-alone’ stance’ at last week’s EU summit.
He addressed parliament without his deputy, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg. The issue has caused a rift in the coalition.
But amid rowdy scenes in the House of Commons, the premier said he acted in the national interest by rejecting treaty changes aimed at tackling the euro crisis.
“London is the leading sector for financial services in the world,” he said.
“Satisfactory safeguards were not forthcoming so I did not agree to the treaty.”
Cameron told the House: “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.”
He concluded his speech with a defiant defence of his actions in Brussels.
“I am absolutely clear that it is possible to be both a full, committed and influential member of the European Union but to stay out of arrangements where they do not protect our interests. That is what I have done at this Council. That is what I will continue to do as long as I am prime minister. It is the right course for this country and I commend this statement to the House.”
But Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband was scathing.
“The prime minister, Mr Speaker, claimed to have wielded a veto. But a veto, let me explain to him, is supposed to stop something happening,” he told MPs. “It is not a veto when the thing you wanted to stop goes ahead without you. Mr Speaker, that is called losing. That is called being defeated.That is called letting Britain down.”
Critics of Cameron believe his opt-out has isolated the UK in the bloc.
It has 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 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.
A close aide to Clegg explained Clegg’s absence from the government benches, telling euronews that he “didn’t want his appearance to be a distraction” at today’s parliamentary session.
According to our London correspondent Ali Sheikholeslami, Deputy Prime Minister Clegg has been under growing pressure from all ranks of 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.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile, insists he and Germany’s Angela Merkel did their best to get the UK on board but could not go back on a drive towards tougher financial sector regulation.