Cameron versus Europe

by Caroline Colebrook

THE LABOUR front benches in the House of Commons were in an uproar of hilarity last Tuesday at the expense of Prime Minister David Cameron after he came back from Europe and had to try to explain why he did not use his veto to stop the 25 nations of Europe signed up the to new fiscal treaty from using the apparatus of the European Union, when last December he had tried to veto the whole thing.

The 25 nations went ahead with their fiscal plan anyway — they were desperate to try to sort out the problem of the Greek debt — leaving Cameron alone on the sidelines. He had hoped for some support in his veto but so far only the Czech Republic backed him up.

But his stance in December did win him support from his own Euro-phobic backbenchers. Now they are totally bewildered.

The fiscal pact has the status of a mere agreement between 25 European nations but it seems now, with Cameron’s acquiescence, its terms can be enforced by the European Court of Justice.

Labour leader Ed Miliband is cock-a-hoop and has been showing uncharacteristic assertive-ness in the House. “With this Prime Minister, a veto is not for life, it’s just for Christmas,” he quipped and also called it a “phantom veto” that does not stop anything except Britain having any say in the fiscal agreement.

Cameron tried to assure the House that the pact “places no obligations” on the Britain but he would take “legal action” if the future role of the European Court threatened UK.

This has shaken Tory backbenchers who have accused Cameron of weakening the stance he took in December.


Tory MP Bill Cash asked whether the UK was on “a slippery slope” and the fiscal pact could eventually be “folded into the EU treaty”.

Cameron said it “cannot be folded back into the EU without the agreement of every member state”, and because he had vetoed a new EU treaty “we’re not in danger of that happening”.

Bernard Jenkin questioned why “a subset of member states can by-pass a veto and hijack the institutions for their own purposes”.

Cameron accepts that the European Court of Justice can be used to enforce the new fiscal rules. But, he told his backbenchers, he reserves the right to challenge this legally if he feels that Britain’s national interests are being threatened by the new eurozone-plus group.

For example, eurozone countries could insist that certain complicated financial products should be traded only within the eurozone. This might help growth within the eurozone but it would devastate the City of London.


When he used his veto in December Cameron claimed it was to defend the historic and powerful position of the City of London. Germany of course wishes to usurp the old power of the City of London for itself, as the strongest economy in the European Union.

The main advantage for the workers of Britain is that this further undermines Cameron’s position at the head of a shaky and disintegrating coalition.

His Liberal Democrat allies are angry that he has offended Europe and left Britain excluded from the negotiating table. And his own backbenchers are unhappy that he has backed down to some extent from his defence of the City.

Cameron has faced a series of defeats in the House of Lords on his welfare Bill that will cut the benefits of hundreds of thousands of unemployed, sick and disabled people. And many of the amendments came from Lib-Dems and even Tories who should have been on his side.

Soon his flagship Bill to speed up the privatisation of the NHS will be in the Lords to face a similar shredding.

Cameron is on very weak ground now; a few more good pushes — for example more national strikes by public sector workers in defence of their pensions — could see him ousted altogether.

Cameron is trying to appease his opponents with feeble gestures, like the withdrawal of Fred “The Shred” Goodwin’s knighthood. It’s not enough. We need to get rid of the whole system.