(Updates with Clegg absence, comment starting in second paragraph.)
Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister David Cameron said he protected Britain’s national interest by refusing to join 26 other nations in a European Union-wide treaty to rescue the euro last week.
Defending his blocking of the accord to lawmakers in London today, Cameron said he’d sought “modest and reasonable” safeguards for Britain’s finance industry and the EU’s single market in the talks in Brussels and had no choice but to oppose a treaty when he couldn’t secure them. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has criticized Cameron’s decision, was absent from the House of Commons as the premier explained his actions.
“I went to Brussels with one objective, to protect Britain’s national interest, and that is what I did,” Cameron said. “It wasn’t the easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.”
By refusing to join the fiscal accord, Cameron, who was cheered by lawmakers from his Conservative Party as he arrived in the chamber, strengthened the Tory faction that wants Britain to leave the EU. He also caused the biggest divide in his coalition with Clegg’s pro-Europe Liberal Democrats since the parties campaigned on opposite sides in a May referendum on overhauling the voting system.
‘Bad for Britain’
Cameron was repeatedly asked by lawmakers why Clegg was not present in the Commons. He said he did not speak for his deputy. Cameron’s decision to veto the pact to tighten budget rules agreed to by the other 26 EU leaders was “bad for Britain,” Clegg said in a pooled television interview after the premier’s statement.
“When I was told about the outcome of the summit I immediately told the prime minister I could not welcome it, it was bad for Britain,” Clegg said. “What we need to do now is build bridges, re-engage and make sure the British voice is heard loud and clear in Europe.”
Conservative lawmaker Nadine Dorries accused Clegg and other Liberal Democrats of making “cowardly and negative attacks” in the media on Cameron’s use of the veto, “cowardice only surpassed by the absence of the deputy prime minister in the house today.”
Another Conservative, Phil Davies, condemned the Liberal Democrats as “lickspittle euro-fanatics.”
Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson contrasted the “constructive diplomacy” of the U.K. working with the EU at climate-change talks in Durban, South Africa, to Cameron’s approach in Brussels.
It is the price of being in coalition that parties can’t get everything they want, Cameron said. He committed himself to making the coalition “work for Britain.”
“It’s no surprise to say that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have not always agreed,” Cameron said. “The negotiating approach of the government was agreed by the government before I went to Brussels,” he said. “I’m not responsible for the whereabouts of the deputy prime minister, but I’m sure he’s working extremely hard.”
Clegg played down the possibility of further division in his television appearance, saying that “the coalition government is here to stay.”
Backing a treaty would have changed the nature of the EU and put Britain at a disadvantage, Cameron said.
“The EU treaty is the treaty of those outside the euro as much as those inside the euro,” he told the Commons. “It would have changed the nature of the EU, strengthening the euro zone without balancing arrangements to protect the single market,” he told lawmakers.
Cameron said Britain could remain as a strong member of the EU while staying out of arrangements and treaties it does not support.
“I do not believe there is a binary choice for Britain,” the premier told lawmakers. “It’s possible to be a full committed and influential member of the European Union but to stay out of arrangements where they don’t suit our interests.”
Ed Miliband, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said Cameron’s veto was the result of a failure by his 19-month-old government to build alliances in Europe to protect the U.K. and was more about splits in his own party than the British national interest.
“He didn’t want a deal because he couldn’t deliver it in his party. This is a bad deal we ended up with for bad reasons and it will have lasting consequences,” Miliband told lawmakers. “We will rue the day this prime minister left Britain alone, without allies, without influence. It’s bad for business, it’s bad for jobs, it’s bad for Britain.”
--Editors: Eddie Buckle, Andrew Atkinson
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