The tensions between Cameron and Clegg over EU


Related Stories

That one night of negotiation in Brussels is casting a long shadow over the coalition. It could be dubbed "the night of the long knife" as not only the coalition partners, but the European Commission, try to shift blame for an unsatisfactory outcome.

Conservative Eurosceptics applauded the prime minister in Parliament on Monday for refusing to sign a new treaty.

Polls suggest what David Cameron did - or, rather didn't do in Brussels - is popular. He is at ease with himself over his handling of the nocturnal talks.

But it was not his preferred outcome - he wanted a protocol to protect Britain's financial services industry in return for signing up to a new treaty.

So since last Friday, at the very top of the coalition, there has been an examination of what went wrong. The Conservatives and Lib Dems have been drawing very different conclusions.

Nick Clegg's non appearance in the Commons on Monday advertised the tensions in neon lights. But they are palpable behind the scenes too.

The official Lib Dem narrative goes like this:

Nick Clegg has changed the tone of his comments but has never really changed his mind. He was called from Brussels in the early hours of Friday morning only when negotiations were over. He told the prime minister he could not support the outcome. He ratcheted up the rhetoric only when Eurosceptics sounded triumphalist.

He also sympathised with David Cameron because he felt the prime minister had faced intransigence on behalf of the French and German governments and was under huge pressure from Conservative Eurosceptics not to return home empty-handed.

The unofficial narrative, from those close to Nick Clegg, is more interesting and says far more about the Cameron/Clegg relationship:

Nick Clegg had indeed signed up to the same negotiating position as the prime minister going in to the talks.

But - having spoken to key EU figures himself ahead of the summit - he had not "gameplanned" a scenario where the UK would be left in a minority of one. So he was genuinely surprised when he got the call from David Cameron telling him that was what had happened.

But the delayed reaction - from expressing disappointment, to going on television 48 hours later to denounce the outcome as "bad for Britain"' - was not simply because he was irritated by the Eurosceptics, or was under pressure from some in his party for his initially lukewarm response.

As one insider put it: "He reacted at first in the way that you would if you felt a friend had made a mistake. He then reacted as though he then had found out that the 'mistake' was that the friend had slept with his wife'."

In other words what was emerging was - in the Lib Dems' view - a sense that there had not been complete intransigence from the other EU states overnight.

This was underlined today when the President of the EU Commission said a compromise had been put forward which had been rejected.

This would have meant Britain didn't get its protocol but would get a clause in the treaty, He tabled a clause which made clear that the measures in the new fiscal compact applied only to the eurozone and wouldn't undermine the single market or allow discrimination against the financial services sector of non-Euro states.

Nick Clegg felt he had signed up to a negotiating position, not a series of inflexible demands.

But the foreign secretary William Hague -who was in Brussels during the negotiations, though not in the room with David Cameron - saw the British demands as the 'minimum' the UK would settle for.

So the anger and disappointment grew.

But senior Downing Street sources have an alternative take on events:

They say that Nick Clegg should have seen a veto coming and should not have been surprised when he got a call in the early hours of Friday in Sheffield to be told the prime minister was not signing up to treaty change.

That was because the night before David Cameron held a 45-minute meeting with President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany. The press in Brussels were briefed immediately after that meeting to be told there had been no meeting of minds and no agreement' on the British demands.

But, Downing Street maintains, Nick Clegg himself was also given the same briefing after the crucial Sarkozy/Merkel meeting and should have realised - with the French and Germans not on side - that there was a very strong possibility that Britain would have to stand alone.

Downing Street saw that meeting as the key encounter and they had made it clear to Nick Clegg that was their view.

They also insist that "our people spoke to his people" throughout the night so he could - had he chosen - known about the twists and turns in Brussels.

Nick Clegg's non-appearance at yesterday's Prime Ministerial statement had tongues wagging around Westminster.

It transpires that the PM and his deputy met for an hour beforehand and had a frank exchange of views.

But it is also clear No 10 did not share Nick Clegg's assessment that his appearance in the House of Commons would be a "distraction" - they felt that the opposite might have been the case.

So where does all this leave the relationship between David Cameron and Nick Clegg?

Well in one sense, they have been here before.

Nick Clegg was furious last Spring when he felt the prime minister had broken a promise not to campaign vigorously in the AV referendum.

A difficult moment, but the coalition survived.

And insiders say the current tensions will not undermine the coalition either.

Indeed, there is a "business-like" arrangement between the prime minister and his deputy which is still fruitful.

Those close to Nick Clegg would say he had real influence over the prime minister's statement on Europe - for example, not completely closing the door to using existing EU institutions to enforce the new fiscal pact - and delivering the address to Parliament in far from triumphalist tones.

They also point out that they had successfully watered down some potential demands before going to Brussels - such as excluding a call to repatriate some existing powers.

There is also an understanding that, increasingly, both men have to have the freedom to express themselves in ways designed to appeal to, rather than alienate, their backbenchers.

Downing Street was keen to stress that Tuesday's cabinet meeting saw Conservative and Lib Dems sharing plenty of common ground on protecting the single market and pressing the eurozone to sort out its debt problems.

And - given the Lib Dems' standing in the opinion polls in particular - there is no appetite for an early election.

But if Cameron and Clegg are the glue which hold the coalition together, their bond might just be a little less strong now.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    The coalition is a bit like Mr.Cameron, pushing Mr.Clegg around a supermarket in a trolly. If Mr Clegg does not take any policies off the shelf , Mr. Cameron will keep going untill he reaches the check outs and there will be NO LIB-DEM policies in the trolly. What happened to the Lib-Dems policy on Local Income Tax to replace ,the council tax as a fair tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    The most gratifying element of the whole affair was the chance to see Cameron wipe the floor with Milliband during yesterday's question time.

    My favourite riposte of the evening, regarding the polls:

    "The leader of the opposition DOES have a constituency in the polls: the 40% who have not made up their minds."

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Until all these liberal socialist racketeers are booted out
    totally. And the Prime Minister can implement'' real'' cuts,
    in the Outrageous amount of Hard Working Tax payers money that's stolen,
    to hand out to the Usual Suspects
    It will not matter a jot V. Rumpoy plans.
    The Biggest threat is OUR Public Service, Welfare Mafia.
    And its Henchmen !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    227. dodo777
    1 Minute Ago

    People all over this country are cracking up killing their families then themselves.

    I think that comes fairly ans squarley into the category of hyoerbole, nonsensical hyperbole at that. Espcially when you consider that it was Gordon Browns mistakes that we are suffering from. Or would you sooner we carried on as before and end up in the same situation a Greece

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    The problem is that it is now far too late to implement the kind of fiscal stability needed that could have led to a more stable and viable Euro. Either the Southern European countries will be stuck with indefinite austerity, or there would need to be a massive bail out from Germany. Are Southern European electorates going to vote for the former, or Germany for the latter? I doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    The BBC reporting of this is a disgrace! It was if the reports were coming from the EU itself.
    BBC editors remember EVERY POLL overwhelmingly says that the British people would like to leave the EU. It is the British people that pay your inflated salaries. Wake up and start being fair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    "If you look at the people who are upset buy the UK's veto: Barroso, Van Rompuy, Ashton, I did not vote for them, I did not even have a chance to vote for them ..."

    Even though I have no time for Cameron or the Tories no sane person could disagree with this. The democratic deficit in Europe is terrifying

    The problem I have is that posters are blind to who is pulling the strings and who benefits

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Yet more bias BBC reporting..oh but be careful you can't call their editors "Europhile Lefties", I'm not sure why this falls outside the house rules!

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    187. quietoaktree
    36 Minutes ago

    After all, they pointed out, the agreement to pursue greater fiscal discipline would only have affected the euro zone."

    So why was it necessary to modify the Lisobon Treaty which governs all members of the EU and not just make an agreemt applicable to only those in the Eurozone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    People all over this country are cracking up killing their families then themselves.What now cameron?How many more jobs and families are being ruined for your mistakes.Cutting back to severe and now people are hurting.You suppose to be for the people but so far you are just destroying britain bit by bit

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    when will we get an unbiased BBC. It is quite sickening we are forced to pay a tax to watch and listen to poor journalism

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    219 - You've completely and utterly dodged that one.

    I don't disagree with you at all about Brown. Or Balls. Or the egregious and feeble Millbroon.

    A terrible government that got walked all over by the financial services industry.

    The Tories were asking for even more 'freedom' and Media Studies Osborne was at the head of the pack raving on about Ireland as a model economy we should emulate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Only 23% of the public wanted Cameron as prime minister but more than half the population of this country are xenophobic bigots. Big Dave's more popular than ever as a result of this!

  • Comment number 223.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    I'm sorry for appearing a little thick but a lot of comments point to the Government pandering the Banks etc.......I seem to remember Cameron stating soon after they took over that no more powers would be surrended to the EU !!!!!
    Isn't that exactly what he did in Brussels, or am I stupid ???

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    After " Up yours Delors" perhaps it should now be "Up yours Barroso". How long does anyone give the wretched euro?

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    If you look at the people who are upset buy the UK's veto: Barroso, Van Rompuy, Ashton, I did not vote for them, I did not even have a chance to vote for them so I do not want them gaining more power. Unlike the above named individuals the majority of the UK does not want the EU to be an undemocratic political union! Cameron is the only politician to send a clear signal to this effect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.


    The Tories wanted LESS regulation

    Read Gordon Browns mansion house speech 2006 & get the truth.
    I think it was 9 seperate banking regulations he boasted about removing since he became chancellor
    What sort of opposition has a man who was instrumental in the banking collapse as shadow chancellor?

    Check out page 263 of the RBS report & see who was using political pressure

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    215. jameskidker
    2 Minutes ago

    I don't know who is madder Sarkozy and the eurocrats or the euro sceptics. The train is running full speed towards the blown up bridge and nothing seems to be able to stop it.

    Only that some have jumped of the train. Jumping of a moving train may hurt a bit but it is better than crashing into the abyss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    For the many more dim witted among the posters today "Night Of The Long Knives" is a phrase common among Tory historians describing a round of sackings in the Macmillan government. It might be tasteless but its proverbial, funny and its True Blue. Pretending its the BBCs smearing left wing bias is just working yourself up into an even more fake Daily Heil/Depress frenzy than you're already in.


Page 1 of 12


More Politics stories



  • FridgeCool customer

    The village that has just got its first fridge

  • Lincoln Perkins (in the middle of the image) carried Churchill's coffin with seven other menNear miss

    How pallbearers almost dropped Churchill's coffin

  • Josef Mengele in SS uniformThe twins of Auschwitz

    How a Nazi doctor experimented on identical siblings

  • Alok'Red market'

    The desperate patients in India turning to illegal blood donors

  • Bank House, 27 King Street, LeedsIn pictures

    Some of the office buildings new to the National Heritage List

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.