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Britain isolated in Europe after summit

12 december 2011, 16:26
0
Eurozone leaders during the summit in Brussels. ©AFP
Eurozone leaders during the summit in Brussels. ©AFP
Britain stood out in the cold in Europe on Friday after Prime Minister David Cameron, facing rising euroscepticism at home, blocked EU treaty changes at a summit designed to save the eurozone, AFP reports.

Initially able to count on Hungary, Sweden and the Czech Republic as fellow naysayers, London found itself completely isolated by the end of the summit, with the other 26 EU nations signed up to a pact for greater fiscal discipline.

Determined to safeguard the powerful City of London from EU regulation, Cameron said he took a "tough but good" decision to block changes to the treaty presented by Germany and France as the best way to solve the euro debt crisis.

"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."

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

While Cameron later denied that Britain was excluding itself from the EU, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said Britain was isolated following the tense summit.

"Cameron made demands that were unacceptable, even to me," Monti told reporters. "Britain has shut itself out. It will be in certain isolation.

"It will have an impact on its influence and this displeases me because it is good to have a counter-weight to countries like France."

But European power broker Angela Merkel seemed more relaxed about London's intransigence. "The British were already not in the euro and in that respect, we are used to this situation," said the German chancellor.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy said it was "unfortunate" that all 27 could not move forward together but added: "We will make the best of it."

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.

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.

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

And Cameron's actions have fuelled calls from eurosceptics for Britain to leave the bloc entirely.

One tricky issue thrown up by the British "no" is whether the grouping of the other 26 can use the EU institutions -- such as the European Commission and the European Court of Justice -- to serve its aims.

"We will insist that the EU institutions, the court and the commission, work for all 27 nations of the EU," Cameron told reporters.

A leading British member of the European parliament from the Liberal group, Andrew Duff, bemoaned Cameron's decision, saying it would actually be "hugely damaging to the British national interest."

"It is perverse to blame other countries for not wishing to cooperate with the UK, when it is the UK which has opted out of the euro and so many other aspects of life in the European Union," said Duff.

Analyst Sony Kapoor from the Redefine think-tank said it was a "sad day for British diplomacy".

"Mr Cameron overplayed his hand and his bluff was called... no matter what happens now, the UK has isolated itself and lost critical influence for no gain whatsoever," said Kapoor.

But Foreign Minister William Hague denied Britain would be shut out after the summit and hit back at claims London's stand would lead to a multi-speed Europe.

"One could debate who would move at a faster speed, and certainly no one should make the assumption that the eurozone moves at a faster speed than the United Kingdom," Hague told BBC radio.

Some eurosceptic commentators appeared proud of Britain's isolation.

A blog on the anti-European Daily Telegraph newspaper said: "If 'isolated' means staying well clear of the clumsy and ultimately undemocratic eurozone project, that’s a damn good place to be."


By Richard Carter

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