Monday 26 February 2018

Sarkozy savages Cameron with ‘obstinate kid’ remark

DAVID Cameron has attempted to rally support among European leaders believed to have deep concerns about last week's summit deal amid reports French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a savage personal attack on his leadership.

The British Prime Minister told Tory MPs he was in close contact with counterparts in other member states and insisted it was "not one against 26", party sources said.

But tensions between the UK and France were heightened further last night after an unconfirmed report in French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine suggested President Sarkozy had accused Mr Cameron of behaving "like an obstinate kid".

The magazine reported that Mr Sarkozy told his party's MPs in a private meeting that he had achieved a "good coup" by securing an agreement covering most of the EU while resisting the UK's demands.

"It's the first time that we have said 'No' to the English," Mr Sarkozy is reported to have said.

"Cameron behaved like an obstinate kid, with a single obsession: protecting the City, which wants to carry on behaving like an off-shore centre. No country supported him. That is the mark of a political defeat.

"Objectively, it was a good coup. I manoeuvred well. The whole world recognised that my proposal was the only possible course.

"The accord will perhaps not put an end to the crisis, but it is a tool for facing up to it. The dynamism of the Franco-German axis enabled us to rally 26 countries."

No 10 confirmed Mr Cameron made calls to leaders in the Czech Republic and Sweden - two non-eurozone nations that could waver when it comes to signing up to the summit deal - as well as Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, who has warned a referendum may be needed on the deal.

Downing Street said Mr Cameron "reiterated the UK's position that he had been ready to agree treaty change for the EU provided the UK secured some modest and practical safeguards to protect the single market".

"In each call the leaders agreed to build on their close co-operation on EU issues, especially promoting jobs and growth through the single market," the spokesman said.

"They agreed that the priority for the European economy remained comprehensive and decisive action to deal with debt and increase competitiveness."

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to mend fences with London by saying it was "beyond doubt for me that Great Britain will in future continue to be an important partner in the European Union".

She indicated she has not given up hope of eventual UK involvement in the new compact, telling the German parliament that it remains open for all EU members to join and it should be merged with the official treaties as soon as possible.

But Downing Street said its position had not changed and Britain would only sign up if it obtained safeguards for the City of London which were roundly rejected last week.

Mr Cameron received a rapturous welcome last night when he addressed the influential backbench 1922 committee.

A Tory source said Mr Cameron was not tackled directly at the behind-closed-doors meeting on eurosceptic demands for powers to be repatriated from Brussels or a UK referendum.

"He emphasised that nobody has yet seen any draft of the intergovernmental agreement so nobody really knows what they are in for so there are alliances to be built there," the source said.

"It is not 26 to one."

He did tackle the issue of strained relations with the Liberal Democrats, saying it was vital to get to 2015 with the coalition "in good working order".

Speaking about the power-sharing partner's response to his use of the veto, Mr Cameron suggested that they had failed properly to anticipate that possibility, the source said.

"He said that they had fully agreed the negotiating position but that perhaps they hadn't themselves thought through what would happen if we had to exercise the veto because we hadn't got what we wanted. Perhaps they had not factored that in."

The Lib Dems too had to "show that coalition works and therefore they have an interest in getting it right through to the end, in 2015", he added.

Further evidence of prickly relations between London and Paris came as the governor of the Bank of France suggested that the UK might be in line for a downgrading of its coveted AAA credit rating.

Credit ratings agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's have both indicated they are considering a downgrade for eurozone nations including France because of the shaky condition of the single currency.

Loss of the top credit grade would have serious economic implications for France, increasing the interest rate it pays for new state borrowing.

But Bank of France governor Christian Noyer told Le Telegramme newspaper: "A downgrade doesn't strike me as justified based on economic fundamentals.

"Or if it is, they should start by downgrading the UK, which has a bigger deficit, as much debt, more inflation, weaker growth and where bank lending is collapsing."

Asked about the governor's comment, Mr Cameron's official spokesman responded: "We have put in place a credible plan for dealing with our deficit and the credibility of that plan can be seen in what has happened to bond yields in this country."

The spokesman dismissed suggestions that Mr Cameron's calls to the leaders of the Czech Republic, Sweden, Ireland and Denmark were intended to destabilise last week's inter-governmental agreement between the 26.

Discussions about the implementation of the agreement are due to last until March and Mr Cameron has said Britain will "engage constructively" with them, though it is not yet known whether UK officials will be present in meetings.

"He has been speaking to a number of different European leaders in recent days and will continue to do so in the coming days, with the objective in mind of making clear that we want to engage constructively," said the spokesman.

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