British lawmakers welcome Cameron home after EU veto

AFP , Saturday 10 Dec 2011

David Cameron's ‎welcomes the British PM decision to veto a new EU treaty aimed at saving the eurozone regardless of domestic opposition that fears isolation from Europe

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at a European Union summit in Brussels December 9, 2011. (Photo:Reuters)

British Prime Minister David Cameron faced searching questions Saturday over his veto of a new EU treaty to solve the eurozone crisis, despite receiving a hero's welcome from his party's lawmakers.

Cameron hosted a dinner for a number of Conservative MPs on Friday night at his country residence after he returned from a summit in Brussels where he took the historic step, his Downing Street office told AFP.

Finance minister George Osborne dismissed suggestions that Britain would now lose influence within the EU, saying Cameron had to protect Britain's interests, including the City of London financial services hub.

Cameron's veto torpedoed a new EU treaty aimed at saving the eurozone, but the other 26 EU states looked set to join a "new fiscal compact", proposed by France and Germany, to resolve the crisis.

"We have protected Britain's financial services and manufacturing companies ... from the development of eurozone integration spilling over and affecting non-euro members of the EU," Osborne told BBC Radio.

"This is not about letting the City off regulation, this is about the right regulation for a very large financial centre, which is much, much larger than any financial centre in France or Germany or any other country of the EU."

Downing Street said there was a "pre-planned meeting" for Conservative lawmakers late Friday at Chequers, the prime minister's official country house outside London, but gave no further details

The BBC reported there were around 30 lawmakers present, including leading eurosceptic MP Andrew Rosindell, who had urged Cameron in parliament last week to show "bulldog spirit" at the Brussels summit.

Cameron was "very relaxed" and the mood was "extremely positive", Rosindell was quoted as saying by the BBC.

But former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Heseltine, a key figure under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, warned eurosceptics that Britain could not protect its interests by walking away from the EU.

He backed Cameron's use of the veto but added: "In saying he wanted to protect the interests of the City, there is no way you can protect those interests by floating off into the Atlantic, frankly."

He said there would now have to be a discussion about the City's relationship with the eurozone.

There were also tensions with some Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in the coalition government, although Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg insisted the coalition was "united" on Cameron's demands.

Eurosceptic newspapers hailed Cameron's decision, with the mass-selling Daily Mail describing it as "The Day He Put Britain First".

Rupert Murdoch's Sun tabloid put a picture of Cameron dressed as wartime leader Winston Churchill on its front page with the defiant headline "Up Eurs -- Bulldog PM sticks up for Britain".

But other newspapers warned London was now dangerously isolated.

"The EU leaves Britain", the Independent said in a headline, while the left-leaning Guardian said "Cameron cuts UK adrift" and accused him of acting not for the good of the economy but to appease eurosceptics.

The Financial Times and The Economist criticised Cameron's decision, saying it could lead to the City of London losing business to eurozone rivals Frankfurt and Paris.

"Mr Cameron must now find a way to restore the UK's influence over the single market," the FT said in an editorial. "One thing is clear: an empty chair resolves nothing."

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