Britain out in the cold after EU treaty block

AFP , Friday 9 Dec 2011

British PM David Cameron vetoes an EU attempt for treaty changes at Brussels summit to save the eurozone, claiming he took a 'tough but good' decision amid French and German rejection

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron talks to reporters upon his arrival at an European Union summit in Brussels December 8, 2011. European Union leaders will discuss proposals for tighter euro zone integration on December 8-9, with the aim of bringing deficits and debt much more strictly into check, a move that may give the European Central Bank room to step up purchases of sovereign bonds and reassure financial markets. (Photo:Reuters)

Britain stood out in the cold Friday after Prime Minister David Cameron, facing a revolt among his own lawmakers back home, blocked EU treaty changes at a summit here designed to save the eurozone.

Only Hungary sided with London in refusing to sign up to an alternative pact aiming to enshrine economic convergence and radical changes in governance that Cameron feared would translate into a transfer of power to Brussels.

The prime minister said he took a "tough but good" decision to block changes to the EU treaty presented by France and Germany as the way to resolve the eurozone debt crisis.

He had said before the summit that he would be prepared to wield his veto if he could not secure a halt in ongoing EU efforts to curb the City of London's huge financial services sector.

After it became clear that his colleagues were not prepared to grant Britain any such concession, the premier said in Brussels that the absence of "safeguards" left him with no choice.

"Where we can't be given safeguards, it is better to be on the outside," Cameron told a news conference. "It was a tough decision, but a good one."

"I said before coming to Brussels that if I couldn't get adequate safeguards for Britain in a new EU treaty then I wouldn't agree to it. What is on offer isn't in Britain interests, so I didn't agree to it."

Leading the opposition to Cameron was French President Nicolas Sarkozy who said he would have preferred a deal across the 27 EU states, but "that wasn't possible taking into account the position of our British friends."

Sarkozy said that Cameron asked for "something we all judged unacceptable -- for a protocol to be inserted into the treaty granting the United Kingdom a certain number of exonerations on financial services regulations."

Cameron said the euro was the divisive factor. "Britain is out of it and will remain out of it," he said.

The two men were partners in the recent conflict in Libya. But the fallout in Brussels was their second such clash in recent weeks, with Sarkozy telling Cameron in October to stop lecturing continental Europe on debts.

Cameron's reluctance to sign up to a deal was due in large part to pressure from both his own lawmakers and the right-wing press back in Britain who have been urging him to hold a referendum on any treaty change.

In October, Cameron suffered the largest rebellion of his premiership when 79 Tory lawmakers voted in favour of a referendum on Britain's relationship with Europe.

And on Thursday, several Tory MPs compared him to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who signed the 1938 pact of appeasement with Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler.

In England, the mass-selling Sun newspaper rolled out World War II comparisons, with mocked-up pictures of Cameron alternatively as Chamberlain and "bulldog spirit" Winston Churchill.

The broadsheet Independent, meanwhile, said Cameron was "isolated," and also used cartoon imagery of him in wartime fatigues, waving the white flag as a zeppelin in the image of German Chancellor Angela Merkel approaches.

Nigel Farage, the European Parliament MP whose UK Independence Party has called fro Britain to leave the EU for the past 20 years, said Cameron misread the negotiation.

"This was not strong negotiation by Cameron to say 'give me an opt-out'" on financial sector regulation or taxation," Farage said at the summit.

"Strong negotiation would have been to call the EU's bluff and say 'I'll call a referendum right now.' Had he done that, they would have given him the opt-out he wanted."

The only other country to decide not to involve itself in the new pact was Hungary. Sweden and the Czech Republic said they had to consult their parliaments before making a decision.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt joked on Twitter: "Worried that Britain is starting to drift away from Europe in a serious way. To where? In a strong alliance with Hungary."

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