Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Sarkozy tells British PM to ‘shut up’ over euro as Cameron braces for revolt

SICK OF LECTURES:EU infighting came to a head at a summit to prop up the euro, with Nicolas Sarkozy taking David Cameron to task for his alleged hypocrisy

The Guardian, BRUSSELS

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday began a week of intense political infighting over Europe by becoming embroiled in a furious row with French President Nicolas Sarkozy over Britain’s role in talks to solve the crisis enveloping the euro.

The bust-up between Cameron and Sarkozy held up the conclusion of the EU-27 summit for almost two hours, with the French president expressing rage at the constant criticism and lectures from UK ministers.

Sarkozy bluntly told Cameron: “You have lost a good opportunity to shut up.”

“We are sick of you criticizing us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings,” he added.

Yesterday, the prime minister was to face both the largest House of Commons revolt of his term and the largest rebellion of euroskeptics suffered by a Conservative prime minister when parliament was to vote on whether the UK should have a referendum on Europe.

Cameron was to meet parliamentary aides in Downing Street before the vote in an attempt to dissuade as many as 10 members of the government minded to rebel against the prime minister, requiring them to resign their posts. The government is sticking to its decision to impose a three-line whip on MPs to vote against the motion despite criticism it has been too heavy-handed.

Officials who witnessed the angry exchanges between Cameron and Sarkozy said the prime minister insisted that the package to be adopted tomorrow by the 17 eurozone countries had serious implications for non-euro countries in the EU and their interests must be safeguarded.

Eventually, after what Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who chaired the summit, called a “stormy” discussion, the French president secured an agreement that while all 27 leaders will first debate the three-pronged package of measures to recapitalize banks, build up the bailout fund and write down Greek debt, the eurosummit would have the final say at back-to-back summits tomorrow.

The vote in parliament yesterday was expected to be a testy encounter with Cameron’s own party on Britain’s membership of the EU. The vote calls for a nationwide referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU, renegotiate its treaty with Brussels, or remain a member on current terms. The government will not suffer a defeat, since Labour and the Liberal Democrats will vote down the motion, but a voluble and sizable group believe the prime minister should honor pledges once made to allow a national poll on Britain’s relationship with Europe. They would like the repatriation of social and employment rights.

On Sunday in Brussels, Cameron used a press conference to appeal directly to potential rebels, talking up the chance of repatriating powers with the “possibility” of treaty change coming on to the agenda as early as December, as euro countries push toward fiscal integration.

Academics at Nottingham University in central England predict the number rebelling against the government is likely to top the 41 Conservative MPs who voted against former British prime minister John Major in May 1993 on the third reading of the Maastricht bill.

They also said 41 was the number who rebelled in October last year over an attempt to make using insulting language a criminal act, which was then the biggest rebellion of Cameron’s leadership.

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