10 Dec 2011

Cameron at crossroads after EU veto

As Conservative backbench MPs welcome David Cameron home from Brussels after his decision to veto EU treaty changes, is the euro actually any closer to being saved?

Mr Cameron told Channel 4 News the UK would continue to play a pivotal role on the continent. “Britain is a major part of the EU… so we have a very strong say,” he told Gary Gibbon.

Earlier, speaking in Brussels at the end of the two-day summit, the prime minister stressed: “The core of the relationship (between Britain and the rest of the EU) – the single market, the trade and the investment, the growth, the jobs that we want to see – that remains as it was.”

Chancellor George Osborne stressed that Mr Cameron had protected Britain’s financial services by refusing to endorse treaty changes.

“If we had signed this treaty,” he told BBC Radio 4, “..then we would have found the full force of the European treaties, the European court, the European Commission, all these institutions enforcing those treaties, using that opportunity to undermine Britain’s interests, undermine the single market.”

Read more: Will UK be left out in the cold?

‘Two-speed Europe’ warning

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned eurosceptics to be “careful what they wish for”. He said: “Clearly there is potentially an increased risk of a two-speed Europe in which Britain’s position becomes more marginalised, and in the long run that would be bad for growth and jobs in this country.”

Mr Clegg also rejected talk of a coalition rift between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, insisting the government was united on the prime minister’s demands for “modest and reasonable” safeguards to protect British interests.

But Mr Cameron is under mounting pressure from backbenchers, heartened by developments in Brussels, to entirely renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU.

He is said to have been toasted for his performance in Brussels by Conservative MPs at a dinner at Chequers on Friday night. And veteran Tory eurosceptic Bill Cash said the UK was now on a “path towards renegotiating in a fundamental way the whole of our treaty relationship with the EU”.

Cameron ‘not at the table’

The prime minister was visibly snubbed by France’s President Sarkozy in Brussels yesterday. He said Mr Cameron had made “unacceptable” demands for exemptions from certain financial regulations in return for joining in the “fiscal compact” enshrined in the treaty change.

Unconfirmed reports suggest the French President told Mr Cameron: “You can’t have an offshore centre taking away Europe’s capital.”

Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was also critical of the British approach. “I didn’t think David Cameron sat with us at the table,” she said. “We had to get some sort of agreement and we couldn’t make compromises. We had to meet tough rules.”

Hungary, the Czech Republic and Sweden were at first reluctant to accept the deal in Brussels, but later indicated they would sign up.

There remains the possibility of confrontation over whether the bloc of 26 EU countries in favour of treaty changes can make use of institutions such as the European Commission and its officials, established for the benefit of all 27.