British public backs EU veto but coalition tensions emerge

11th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron won public approval Sunday for his decision to veto a new EU treaty to solve the eurozone crisis, but cracks began to appear in his coalition government over the move.

A new poll revealed 62 percent support for Cameron's decision following all-night talks in Brussels overnight on Thursday, echoing the warm welcome it received among eurosceptics within his Conservative party.

The Mail on Sunday survey also confirmed strong public backing -- 66 percent -- for a referendum on Britain's role in the European Union, which the eurosceptics have long been calling for.

Cameron is keen to avoid such a vote, however, partly because of the damage it could do to his coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrats -- and reports suggest his dramatic veto is already causing problems.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, has publicly backed Cameron's move but a source close to him told the Independent on Sunday that he was privately furious at the way the Brussels summit turned out.

"Nick certainly doesn't think this is a good deal for Britain, for British jobs or British growth," the source said, saying Clegg "couldn't believe it" when he heard the news of how the talks ended.

Describing the result as a "spectacular failure to deliver in the country's interest", the source said: "It leaves us isolated in Europe and that is not in our national interest. Nick's fear is that we become the lonely man of Europe."

Cameron had sought to secure safeguards for Britain's financial sector from new measures designed to resolve the debt crisis. When these were rejected, he used his veto to block attempts to enshrine the changes into the EU's treaties.

The other 26 nations have now agreed in principle to join a "new fiscal compact" through intergovernmental agreements, but this has sparked fears that Britain will be left out of future key discussions on EU economic issues.

Another senior Lib Dem, Business Secretary Vince Cable, openly warned that Britain was left in a "bad place", echoing concerns from some business leaders that London would not be able to stop new financial regulations.

"I am not criticising the prime minister personally. Our policy was a collective decision by the coalition. We finished in a bad place," he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

The Tories and the centrist Lib Dems have been governing together since the May 2010 election. Never natural bedfellows, they have survived several challenges, but Europe was always a potential flashpoint.

Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes risked further inflaming tensions on Saturday by telling Conservative eurosceptics hoping to use this moment to renegotiate Britain's ties with Europe to "calm down".

"We are not going to be negotiating treaty change. There will not be an opportunity for them to pull us further away from Europe. That's off the table," Hughes told Sky News.

But Foreign Secretary William Hague, a leading eurosceptic and former Tory leader, defended Cameron's actions.

Britain's demands at the EU summit had been "moderate, reasonable and relevant", he said, rejecting reports it wanted an an opt-out or anything that would have given Britain an unfair advantage in the single market.

"We did not go to Brussels seeking a row. We went in search of agreement. It is a matter of regret that no agreement that was acceptable to all 27 EU countries could be reached," he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

"But it is better to have no change to the EU treaties than a change that did not protect our interests and work for all EU member states."

© 2011 AFP

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