UK Politics

David Cameron claims EU budget success

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Media captionDavid Cameron: ''We protected the UK taxpayer"

UK PM David Cameron says he has "succeeded spectacularly" in seeing off a potential 6% EU budget increase.

He has been accused of "grandstanding" after saying he wanted the 2011 budget frozen, then agreeing to a rise that will cost the UK an extra £450m a year.

He said he had won agreement from 12 EU leaders that the rise should not exceed 2.9%, amid calls for a 5.9% rise.

Labour said his strategy had been a "complete failure" and some Eurosceptic Tories wanted a budget freeze or cut.

BBC Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt said although 13 countries had put their names to a letter saying they supported the 2.9% increase there was still a question mark over whether that would be the final deal.

'Stopped juggernaut'

Mr Cameron is in Brussels for a two-day summit, where EU leaders have been discussing measures to avert another financial crisis within the eurozone.

But separately he has been pressing the case for limiting the EU's budget, arguing against a 5.9% rise for 2011 backed by the European Parliament and European Commission.

Amid criticism from some within his own party that he should have pressed for a budget freeze, or a cut, Mr Cameron insisted he had made "a real difference" by putting the 2011 budget on the agenda and persuading other states to reject the "crazy" 5.9% rise - which he said was now "dead".

While he had wanted a freeze, he said had been "looking down the barrel of a potential 6% increase" and his aim had been to stop it adding: "We have succeeded quite spectacularly, we put together a big alliance to stop that juggernaut of 6% in its tracks."

Mr Cameron said he had inherited the budget deal but said "as a result of Britain's intervention the spotlight has now shifted to reining in the excesses of the EU budget".

Of the 2.9% rise - which will cost the UK an extra £450m a year - he added: "I'm not pretending that is a giant El Dorado of a goldmine for the British public what it is is a lot better than what we were looking at and the key point is, it wouldn't have happened without our action."

He also said he had secured an agreement that from now on the EU budget "will reflect the spending cuts being made by national governments" - adding: "This is, I think, incredibly important, it will have a direct impact on the pocket of the UK taxpayer back at home. It is a significant prize."

'Could do better'

But asked if he could guarantee that the budget would not rise by more than 2.9%, Mr Cameron said: "I am sure they [EU leaders] are good for their word." A spokesman for EU budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski said the final rise was still uncertain.

Mr Cameron also said, although final decisions were not taken this week, EU leaders had endorsed a "full British opt out" for the UK on strengthened enforcement measures for EU states - aimed at avoiding another financial crisis in the eurozone.

He said eurozone countries would simply formalise arrangements to bail each other out in a crisis - something that would protect British taxpayers.

Asked if he was a "Eurosceptic" he said he was but added: "Obviously a practical, sensible and reasonable one at the same time."

Last week Mr Cameron said he was calling for "a cash freeze in the size of the EU budget for 2011". But on Thursday his officials briefed that he had accepted a freeze was not possible.

On Thursday Downing Street said Mr Cameron had secured an agreement from other EU states, including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Czech Republic, to limit the rise to 2.9% - the amount agreed by the EU Council of Ministers in August.

Asked if he could guarantee that the budget would not rise by more than the 2.9% as agreed with the other leaders, Mr Cameron said: "I am sure they are good for their word."

But Labour - and Eurosceptics in Mr Cameron's own party - have questioned whether it was much of an achievement.

Shadow foreign secretary Yvette Cooper said: "David Cameron's grandstanding has been a complete failure. European governments decided on 2.9% in August so he has achieved absolutely nothing.

"He's tried to swing his handbag but simply ended up clobbering himself in the face."

Conservative MP Bill Cash, who chairs the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, said prime ministers always claimed success when they returned from EU summits but the 2.9% increase was what the Council of Ministers had originally agreed - and British MPs had already voted to reject a higher increase.

"It has to be said that that, therefore, cannot be seen as a success at all," he told the BBC News Channel.

But as the measure had yet to clear the European Parliament there was "still something to play for".

MPs were due to debate the issue on 10 November. he added.

And Conservative MEP Roger Helmer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think we could have done better, I think we should have done better. Only two days ago we were talking about a freeze or even a cut and yet here we are rolling over - 2.9% is no great achievement, it's the position that the council held beforehand."

UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall said: "David Cameron has spun himself into a corner. He said that he would cut the budget, or at least freeze the budget. Now he's talking about a 2.9% increase at best. It's crazy."

Conservative peer Lord Tebbit also launched an attack on the prime minister, saying: "He would do better to go down fighting than to surrender in some Vichy-style arrangement, pretending to hold on to sovereignty by agreeing to what Europe demands."

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