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Nicholas Leonard: Clegg the biggest loser as Cameron soaks up acclaim at home

There will be extraordinary scenes of rapturous euphoria in the Commons today as right-wing Conservative MPs acclaim the prime minister, David Cameron, for his unprecedented decision to use the British veto on a new EU treaty.

There are cynics at Westminster who think the dramatic confrontation in Brussels was plotted in advance by Mr Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France when they had a private meeting earlier last week.

The outcome certainly leaves the two of them as the big short-term winners. Mr Cameron's position as party leader has been underpinned for as long as he wants to keep the job and Mr Sarkozy has not only cemented his relationship with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, but has also set Mr Cameron up as the man to blame if the latest fudged manoeuvres to hold the eurozone together fail to do the trick.

The biggest loser in the Commons is the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, whose reputation is dropping faster than the value of Greek government bonds. His colleagues are furious with him for apparently giving Mr Cameron a free hand on whether or not to use the veto.

Yesterday, Mr Clegg made matters worse for himself by claiming that the outcome would have been very different if he had been negotiating with 'Merkozy' but then admitted that Mr Cameron had no choice in the matter because the eurosceptics in the Commons would have defeated him on a compromise deal and the crisis would simply have been delayed.

'Fog in the channel -- continent cut off', said a legendary newspaper vendor's placard a century or so ago. That is certainly the endgame that Mr Cameron's eurosceptics now hope to achieve. Having pushed him into defying Merkozy, they now hope to force him to hold a referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU.

The hardest thing in politics is to run a revolution slowly and Mr Cameron has effectively launched a revolution in the British stance towards integration with Europe.

If the final result of the current crisis is to give much greater effective power to the central eurozone bloc and its supporters within the EU, then the chances of further confrontations with Britain over new regulatory powers are clearly very high.

One of the biggest influences in Mr Cameron's life has been his father, Ian, who was a senior partner in one of the biggest stockbroking firms in the City of London. It is hardly surprising that Mr Cameron's strategy in Brussels was designed to protect the interests of the financial services industry.

But his critics fear any short-term gains will be offset by the impact of his isolationism on major global groups which may be deterred from investing in British industry or commerce in the future.

Other pro-EU politicians are frightened by the long-term strategic implications of what has happened. They think that Mr Cameron made a serious mistake six years ago when he broke away from the moderate right-wing elements in the European parliament and cut off many indirect sources of influence and lobbying.

They are worried that leaving an empty chair at key meetings in the EU in the future will inevitably result in decisions intended to further the interests of France and Germany.

The biggest short-term worry for Mr Cameron, as for everyone else, is simply that the rescue deal for the eurozone fails to work. That is also a major concern for the US and the reason why President Barack Obama was trying to orchestrate a compromise behind the scenes in Brussels last week.

One thing that Mr Cameron does not have to fret about is the survival of the coalition cabinet, although there will be much huffing and puffing and one or two of the Liberal Democrat ministers may decide to walk out. The business minister, Vince Cable, issued a denial of resignation rumours yesterday but is keen to let it be known that he is completely opposed to the sweetheart salvation of the banking sector. Mr Clegg, the deputy prime minister, is not going to resign because he knows that that would completely undermine his somewhat forlorn hopes of pushing Britain back towards Europe.

The first opinion polls since the veto suggest that Mr Cameron's ploy has been well received by voters, who are being assured by the right-wing media that he is protecting British interests.

In contrast to the fury of right-wing MPs, the BBC has been treating the outcome as a disaster that marginalises Britain and puts its economic future at risk by undermining the eurozone's recovery hopes.

Ironically, the financial services watchdog will be releasing a devastatingly critical report today on the way that the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, failed to regulate the banking sector and allowed Royal Bank of Scotland to come within a couple of hours of admitting it had run out of cash to meet its liabilities.

gilmore to reach out to uk

Irish Independent