British Prime Minister David Cameron won public approval yesterday 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 euro-skeptics within his Conservative party.
A survey by the Daily Mail yesterday also confirmed strong public backing — 66 percent — for a referendum on Britain’s role in the EU, which the euro-skeptics have long been calling for.
However, Cameron is keen to avoid such a vote 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.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday said Cameron’s move could leave the UK “isolated and marginalized” by the EU.
The Liberal Democrat leader’s comments saw him officially breaking ranks with Cameron.
“I am bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last week’s summit, precisely because I think there is now a real danger that over time the United Kingdom will be isolated and marginalized within the European Union,” Clegg told the BBC.
“I don’t think that’s good for jobs in the City [of London financial services hub] or elsewhere. I don’t think it’s good for growth. I don’t think it’s good for families up and down the country,” he said.
He also warned against anti-EU elements in the Conservatives pushing for Britain to leave the bloc altogether, saying it would leave the UK as a global “pygmy.”
“I think a Britain which leaves the EU will be considered to be irrelevant by Washington and will be considered a pygmy in the world when I want us to stand tall and lead in the world,” he said.
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 the UK will be left out of key future discussions on EU economic issues.
Another senior Liberal Democrat, Business Secretary Vince Cable, openly warned that the UK 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 criticizing 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 Liberal Democrats have been governing together since last year’s May election. Never natural bedfellows, they have survived several challenges, but Europe was always a potential flashpoint.