Cameron tries to limit the veto damage
Published 13/12/2011 | 05:00
British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to limit the political damage from a historic break with his European partners yesterday, insisting that remaining a member of the 27-nation EU was in Britain's national interest -- despite his veto on a new treaty.
Mr Cameron's decision to oppose an EU treaty change aimed at tightening fiscal rules for countries using the euro has isolated Britain in the 27-nation bloc and created the biggest rift in his coalition since he took power in May 2010.
The prime minister sparked speculation about Britain's future relationship with the EU on Friday when he appeared to give a less than wholehearted commitment to Britain's place in the bloc it joined in 1973.
"Britain remains a full member of the EU and the events of the last week do nothing to change that. Our membership of the EU is vital to our national interest," Mr Cameron said.
"We are a trading nation and we need the single market for trade, investment and jobs," Mr Cameron added.
Mr Cameron's veto pleased eurosceptics on the right of his Conservative Party but angered pro-European Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in his coalition that he depends on to push through austerity policies to curb Britain's big budget deficit.
Mr Cameron insisted the tensions would not lead to the coalition breaking up even though his deputy, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, was glaringly absent from the debate, drawing cries of "Where's Clegg?" from opposition Labour lawmakers.
Mr Clegg, who voiced disappointment on Sunday at Mr Cameron's summit decision despite initially appearing to support it, said his presence in parliament would have been a distraction because of his public disagreement with Mr Cameron.
"I've made it very clear that I think isolation in Europe, when we are one against 26, is potentially a bad thing for jobs, a bad thing for growth and a bad thing for the livelihoods of millions of people in this country," Mr Clegg told broadcasters.
Mr Cameron said Britain could be both a "full, committed and influential" member of the EU but stay out of arrangements that did not protect British interests. "We are in the EU and we want to be," he said.