Britain's coalition 'not threatened' by EU veto

12th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's junior coalition partner insisted Monday that tensions over Europe would not topple the government, as premier David Cameron readied to tell lawmakers why he vetoed a new EU treaty.

Cameron's decision at an EU summit in Brussels last week has delighted eurosceptics in his Conservative party but has opened a rift with the pro-Europe Liberal Democrats who say it was "bad for Britain".

The prime minister opted out of an agreement by the other 26 EU states to join a "new fiscal compact" aimed at saving the euro, angering much of Europe as it tries to prop up the single currency amid the debt crisis.

But Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, a Liberal Democrat cabinet minister, said the coalition formed in May last year to tackle Britain's record deficit would serve out its full five years.

"This doesn't threaten the coalition," Alexander told BBC radio.

"The coalition was formed, two parties coming together in the national interest to deal with the fundamental economic challenges that we face as a country. That is the central task of this government."

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable, a strong pro-European, denied reports that he was going to resign over the issue.

"No, no, I'm just getting on with my job as I always do," he told Sky News when asked whether he would quit. "What we badly need is complete reassurance that we are fully committed to working in the European Union."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, took aim at Cameron on Sunday, saying the veto could leave Britain as an international "pygmy", although he too said the coalition was safe.

Cameron has said he took the decision to safeguard London's vital financial services industry from tougher EU regulation and taxes.

He is due to explain his decision to lawmakers at 1530 GMT and it promises to be a raucous session, with opponents accusing him of failing to win any safeguards and of being in thrall to the anti-Europe wing of his party.

Cameron's position was weakened in October after a rebellion by 81 lawmakers calling for a parliamentary vote for a referendum on Britain's relationship with the EU, and they could seek to press their position.

David Miliband, a Labour lawmaker and former foreign minister, said that after Cameron's decision Britain was now without a say in the EU for the first time since it joined the bloc.

"This is the first veto in history not to stop something," Miliband -- whose brother is Labour leader Ed Miliband -- told the BBC.

"Not a single minister in a single interview has pointed to us a single clause in that treaty that would have weakened our rights and freedoms under for example the financial transactions tax."

But opinion polls show broad public support for Cameron's move.

In a poll for The Times published on Monday, 57 percent of voters supported his decision on Europe, and only 12 percent believed the veto would not safeguard the City of London. The Populus poll sampled 1,951 people.

Much of Britain's eurosceptic press is also behind Cameron.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper, Britain's biggest selling daily, branded the Lib Dem leader "Villain Clegg" and accused him of being a "cynical opportunist".

But in Scotland, First Minister Alex Salmond criticised the veto and accused Cameron of putting Scottish interests at risk without first having consulted the devolved administration in Edinburgh.

© 2011 AFP

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