The junior partner in Britain's ruling coalition insisted Monday that Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to veto European Union treaty changes would not threaten the government.
The smaller, pro-Europe Liberal Democrats have criticised Conservative leader Cameron for keeping Britain out of a deal by the other 26 EU nations at a summit in Brussels last week aimed at propping up the euro.
But Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, a Liberal Democrat cabinet minister, said that, despite the row, the coalition formed in May last year to tackle Britain's record deficits would survive. "This doesn't threaten the coalition," Alexander told BBC radio.
"The coalition was formed, two parties coming together in the national interest to deal with the fundamental economic challenges that we face as a country,” he said. "That task is the central task of this government, and it is a task that we will continue over the full five years until 2015 when there will be another general election."
His comments came a day after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, opened a potential rift in the coalition by saying Cameron's decision was "bad for Britain." Clegg had also warned the move could leave the country as an international "pygmy.”
Cameron has said he took the decision to safeguard London's vital financial services industry. Alexander said there were bound to be differences in a coalition. "Of course you have two parties with different views on a range of subjects, and that difference is most accentuated perhaps on the subject of Europe," he said.
"But that's why I think it is so important that we look at how we act as a government now, so that this setback does not become permanent isolation," Alexander added.
Opinion polls show broad public support for Cameron's move.
In a poll for The Times published on Monday, 57 per cent of voters supported his decision on Europe, and only 12 per cent believed the veto would not safeguard the City of London. The Populus poll sampled 1,951 people.