Clegg to 'pick up the pieces' with EU leaders after Cameron veto


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The Independent Online

A drive to "pick up the pieces" will be led by Nick Clegg following the collapse of last week's EU summit. But there were new strains in the Coalition after Liberal Democrat ministers criticised David Cameron's negotiating tactics during a heated Cabinet discussion yesterday.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Climate Change Secretary and former MEP, complained that his party should have been consulted during the talks in Brussels which ended with Britain in a minority of one last Friday. He contrasted Mr Cameron's approach with his own during the global climate change talks in Durban, saying he cleared his lines with other ministers as the meeting progressed.

Other Liberal Democrat ministers – Mr Clegg, Danny Alexander and Michael Moore – told the Cabinet they were unhappy that Mr Cameron had wielded the veto to block an EU-wide treaty aimed at rescuing the single currency. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is understood to have expressed concern about the possible impact on business and foreign investment in Britain if the country is viewed as not fully committed to the EU.

But Tory ministers defended Mr Cameron's decision to veto the proposed treaty, arguing that his hand in future negotiations would have been weakened if he had backed down.

After the meeting, both Tory and Liberal Democrat ministers stressed they were now looking forward rather than back at the summit. In future, the Liberal Democrats are expected to be consulted more fully during important EU meetings. Following Mr Clegg's decision not to attend Mr Cameron's Commons statement on the summit on Monday, the Prime Minister appears to have offered him a key role in rebuilding Britain's bridges with other EU members. Mr Clegg, a former MEP and European Commission official, has good personal contacts in several EU governments.

He will host a meeting of Liberal ministers and other politicians from around Europe in London next month to discuss Britain's relationship with the EU and the eurozone crisis.

There are signs that some of the other 26 leaders realise it would be much better to get Britain back on board because a formal EU treaty might carry more credibility with the financial markets. But Joseph Daul, a French MEP who chairs the Parliament's main centre-right group, said the UK was "selfish" and should lose the £2.7bn rebate on its EU budget contributions. "The British cheque is now up for question," he said.