that Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s support for David Cameron’s veto of fiscal union would not last, and that the Lib-Dem/Conservative coalition could well split up over the issue. By Saturday Clegg was
from his support for Cameron. And by Sunday he had
into full voiced opposition, declaring that he is “bitterly disappointed” by the outcome of the summit and that Cameron’s veto has left Britain “isolated and marginalized” in the EU:
December 11, 2011
Partner in British Coalition Criticizes Cameron’s Veto on Europe Treaty
By SARAH LYALL
LONDON—Serious cracks appeared in Britain’s coalition government on Sunday, when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, broke with the government line and said he was “bitterly disappointed” at the outcome of last week’s European summit meeting.
Mr. Clegg told the BBC that the decision by Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, to veto proposed European treaty changes left Britain in danger of being “isolated and marginalized” in Europe. He added that if he had been in charge, “of course things would have been different.”
Mr. Cameron vetoed the proposals early Friday after seeking, and failing to secure, safeguards he said were vital for the health of London’s financial sector. But with the 26 other members of the European Union either agreeing to the proposed plan outright or saying they would put the matter before their Parliaments, Mr. Cameron’s veto left Britain alone on the margins at a time of great upheaval on the Continent, with the European Union struggling to resolve its financial crisis.
On Friday, Mr. Clegg appeared to support Mr. Cameron’s decision, although he warned the Conservative Party’s anti-Europe wing against being too triumphant about the problems facing the European Union. But his stance hardened over the weekend, and on Sunday he appeared to have backtracked, or at least tried to finesse his explanation to show that was in line with his party’s pro-Europe principles.
In fact, Mr. Clegg told the BBC that when Mr. Cameron called him at 4 a.m. Friday with the news that Britain had vetoed the plan: “I said this was bad for Britain. I made it clear that it was untenable for me to welcome it.”
Mr. Clegg has already lost the confidence of many Liberal Democrats by appearing to betray the party’s position when he has supported the government on other issues, like increasing the amount of tuition colleges can charge.
After the summit meeting, many prominent Liberal Democrats went further than Mr. Clegg.
A former party leader, Paddy Ashdown, described Mr. Cameron’s veto as a “catastrophically bad move” and said it would do nothing to shield London’s financial district, the City, from future European regulations. “In the name of protecting the City, we have made it more vulnerable,” he said.
Lord Ashdown also warned that the move had alienated Europe in a way that would haunt the United Kingdom.
“The anti-European prejudice of some in the Tory party,” he said, “has now created anti-British prejudice in Europe.”
Mr. Clegg, a former member of the European Parliament, said he would now “fight, fight and fight again” to make sure Britain remained an influential force inside the European Union. He said he would resist “tooth and nail” efforts by some Conservatives to take the country completely out of the union, particularly since the United States has found Britain a useful conduit to Europe.
“A Britain that leaves the E.U. will be considered irrelevant by Washington and a pygmy in the world, when I want us to stand tall in the world,” he said.
Mr. Clegg criticized Conservatives who had hailed Mr. Cameron as a “British bulldog” for his tough line on Europe.
“There’s nothing bulldog about Britain hovering somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, not standing tall in Europe, not being taken seriously in Washington,” he said.
To which one Conservative member of Parliament, Mark Pritchard, retorted, “Better to be a British bulldog than a Brussels poodle,” The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Cameron, meanwhile, was welcomed as a hero by his party’s anti-Europe right wing. “Up Eurs,” was the headline in Rupert Murdoch’s populist, anti-European tabloid newspaper, The Sun, along with a photograph of Mr. Cameron in a Churchillian bowler hat, holding two fingers up to Europe—the equivalent of an American middle finger.
“He did what I would have expected Margaret Thatcher to have done,” Andrew Rosindell, a Conservative member of Parliament, said approvingly.
But Kenneth Clarke, the Justice secretary and the Conservatives’ most prominent pro-Europe member, said in a radio interview that Mr. Cameron’s veto was a “disappointing, very surprising outcome.” He said he would be listening carefully to the prime minister’s statement in Parliament on the matter on Monday.
As upset as he is, Mr. Clegg said he did not want the coalition government to collapse.
“It would be even more damaging for us as a country if the coalition government was to fall apart,” he said. “That would cause economic disaster for the country at a time of great economic uncertainty.”