UK Politics

David Cameron would not hesitate to veto 'bad EU deal'

  • 8 December 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
  • comments
David Cameron
Image caption Mr Cameron said he would "be looking out for the interests of UK plc"

David Cameron has said he would have "no hesitation" in vetoing a proposed new European Union treaty if it did not offer a "good deal" for the UK.

Ahead of a crucial summit meeting in Brussels, the prime minister said he had two aims: stability for the euro and protecting Britain's interests.

A 45-minute pre-summit meeting with the French president and the German chancellor broke up without agreement.

Some senior Conservatives say any big changes should go to a UK referendum.

Others want him to do more to reshape the UK's relationship with the EU by taking back specific powers.

Leaders of the EU's 27 member states are gathering to try to resolve the eurozone debt crisis. France and Germany will put forward plans for a new EU treaty enshrining stricter fiscal rules for the 17 member states that use the euro.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for much closer co-operation among eurozone members, including budgetary oversight, common corporation and financial transaction taxes.

'Very tough'

Mr Cameron has said he will exact "a price" for UK support for any treaty change requiring the support of all 27 EU members and wants safeguards on financial regulation and for the single market, in the event of closer fiscal integration in the eurozone.

Sources say the PM was "very tough" in setting out what he would demand in return for a new treaty, in his meeting on Thursday evening with the French and German leaders.

But there was "no movement", with each side setting out their respective positions.

Downing Street sources say "this is going to be difficult" and they don't expect any wider agreement amongst EU leaders until the early hours of Friday, if that.

The government has been critical of suggestions there should be an EU-wide financial transactions zone, which it says would damage the City of London.

"In return for the treaty that they want - to sort out the problems of the eurozone - I want to make sure we get a good deal for Britain, we keep our markets open and we have the power here in the UK to make sure that our top industries are properly promoted and enhanced," Mr Cameron said earlier.

Sources will not confirm whether or not he will ask for a de facto veto on future regulations.

The prime minister acknowledged the negotiations would not be easy. "Sometimes it is like playing chess against 26 different people, rather than just one person and I am not very good at chess anyway. But I will be doing my best for Britain and I hope if we get a good deal, that will be good for Britain."

But he warned: "If I can't get what I want, I will have no hesitation in vetoing a treaty at 27 because I am not going to go to Brussels and not stand up for our country. "

There is growing pressure on Mr Cameron from within his own party to go further. Senior backbencher David Davis - a Europe minister in John Major's government - said the PM should not accept any moves by eurozone members to form their own union or strike a deal without going through all 27 EU states.

He also said there would have to be a referendum if there was a "significant change in the balance of power in Europe".

'Chamberlain-esque'

The government says a UK referendum will not be necessary because the proposed changes would not involve a big shift in power from London to Brussels.

But two other senior Conservatives - Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Patterson and Mayor of London Boris Johnson - also suggested there might have to be a referendum, if a new eurozone bloc was created, or the UK was asked to sign up to a new EU treaty involving all 27 member states.

In a debate on Europe in Westminster Hall, Conservative MP Edward Leigh warned against greater fiscal unity in the eurozone and compared agreements reached at EU summits to the return of former Neville Chamberlain to the UK declaring "peace in our time", the year before World War II began.

Mr Leigh said: "We have had enough of reading of British prime ministers over the last 20 to 30 years... that 'they will stand up for the British national interest' and then coming back from a summit with a kind of Chamberlain-esque piece of paper saying, 'I have negotiated very, very hard, I have got opt-outs on this and that and I have succeeded in standing up for British interests'."

Fellow backbencher Bernard Jenkin called for a referendum and said Mr Cameron should be using the opportunity to get powers back from Brussels: "Far from not being the time to renegotiate to bring powers back, this is the moment at which we will have most leverage," he said.

Mr Leigh was criticised by Lib Dem MP Martin Horwood, who said, by implication, that his words had compared the UK's European partners to the Nazis: "That kind of language in this debate has been deeply offensive... it is exactly the kind of xenophobic rhetoric that risks discrediting this country."

Conservative MPs told him his suggestion was "ridiculous".

'Back to the 90s'

Earlier Mr Cameron's predecessor as Conservative leader, Lord Howard, told the BBC while he wanted a "rebalancing" of the relationship, that was an issue for the future.

He said: "What is pressing at the moment is the need to help the eurozone overcome its crisis, because the world economy is in a very fragile state and a disorderly break-up of the eurozone could bring about an economic catastrophe on a global scale."

Former cabinet minister Lord Fowler told the BBC that Conservative eurosceptic rebels risked taking the party "back to the 1990s" when it was riven by splits on Europe.

But Education Secretary Michael Gove said the cabinet and the entire Conservative party were "united" behind the prime minister in his efforts to "win for Britain".

Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, whose party is more pro-European than their coalition partners, said the UK was not asking for "exceptional treatment" just for there to be a "level playing field" in Europe.

But for Labour, shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said Conservative divisions on Europe had "exploded into the open", suggested the cabinet was "openly at war" and London mayor Mr Johnson was "madly stirring the pot" because he had his own leadership ambitions.

"The prime minister got a euro-mauling from his own backbenchers yesterday and the eurosceptics are out on manoeuvres," she said.

"A Tory grass-roots rebellion, a cabinet divided, a prime minister isolated. Can you tell us what's different from the last Tory government he served in?"