Britain's Clegg slaps down Tory calls on EU

14th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg dismissed calls by members of his Conservative coalition partners on Wednesday to use the eurozone crisis as a chance to rethink London's ties with the EU.

The Liberal Democrat leader, who entered a coalition with Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives in May 2010, said Britain must focus on helping the eurozone to boost growth across the continent.

He was responding to increasing unrest among eurosceptic Tory lawmakers who have set up a new group designed to look at how Britain can take back powers from Brussels, in a move that threatens to reopen a deeply divisive issue for the party.

"On a day like today, when people have been talking openly about the possibility of a Greek default, the key question is not how do we seek to renegotiate the United Kingdom's place in the European Union in a treaty that hasn't even materialised yet," Clegg said in a speech at the London School of Economics.

"The single most important question, the urgent question, is what role can we play in helping the eurozone avoid further turmoil, creating the stability needed for prosperity and jobs in the eurozone, of course, and in the United Kingdom too?"

Cameron is coming under increasing pressure from his MPs over Europe, and last week was asked in the House of Commons whether he would "listen to Conservative colleagues and take the opportunity to hold a referendum on Europe".

The prime minister rejected the call, saying: "We are in Europe and we have got to make it work for us."

At the first meeting of their new group on Monday, more than 120 eurosceptic Conservative MPs expressed a strong desire for a plan to reduce Britain's role in Europe, according to one of its conveners, George Eustice.

"The euro crisis could arrive on our doorstep at any time. We need to have a very clear British foreign policy for how we can take powers back," he said, although he stressed the group did not want to return to the destructive divisions of the past.

Last week, Conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would like powers returned to London from Brussels, but said the idea was sacrificed to form a coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrats.

© 2011 AFP

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