Coalition partners put a brave face on their battered relationship

 

After a torrid few days, Nick Clegg began yesterday among friends. He arrived at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London's Knightsbridge at 7.45am and had time, appropriately, for croissants and coffee as he prepared to address the Business for New Europe group.

Like him, the organisation is for the European Union and against David Cameron's use of the veto at last week's Brussels summit.

It was the start of the Deputy Prime Minister's fightback on Europe as he tried to "pick up the pieces" on two fronts – ending both Britain's isolation in the EU and the bitter public split between Britain's two Coalition parties.

Also present were Liberal Democrat ministers Vince Cable, the Business Secretary; Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary; Danny Alexander, the Chief Treasury Secretary; and his predecessor, the backbencher David Laws. Tory ministers were conspicuous by their absence.

Despite that, Mr Clegg told the businessmen: "The whole Government is absolutely determined to re-engage with our European partners, to get back on the front foot and to make sure that our vital national economic self-interest in being at the heart of the single market is properly followed through the weeks and months ahead."

Mr Clegg squeezed in meetings with other leading business figures after returning to his office in Whitehall. Several expressed their dismay at Britain's apparent isolation. Mr Clegg encouraged them to make their fears known – both in public and privately to Tory ministers. Predictably, the Liberal Democrat leader was greeted with derision from Labour MPs when he entered the Commons chamber to take his seat for Prime Minister's Questions. He knew it would happen because of his highly unusual "no show" on Monday, when Mr Cameron made a Commons statement on the Brussels summit. Then Mr Clegg was visibly angry, ripping off his lapel microphone at the end of a TV interview explaining his absence. Yesterday he smiled through the taunts.

Fortunately for the PM and his deputy, Ed Miliband's inevitable attack on their split was deflected by a brilliant put-down by Mr Cameron: "It's not like we're brothers or anything."

Mr Clegg congratulated Mr Cameron on what he saw as a strong performance. The PM had rehearsed his knockout blow at two "prepping" sessions for PMQs yesterday morning.

Later, both he and Mr Clegg met senior ministers to discuss the Olympics. After a week of tension, ministers saw it as a welcome chance to get back to normal business. Europe was not on the agenda. Spin doctors from both Coalition parties agreed: "It's time to move on."

Then Mr Cameron returned to the Commons for an end-of-term address to Tory MPs and peers at the weekly meeting of the 1922 Committee.

"Headmaster's study again," he quipped to a line of journalists standing opposite him, jokingly branding them "the execution squad". If he had caved in at the Brussels summit, the execution squad might have been waiting for him inside. Instead, two hardline Eurosceptics, Bernard Jenkin and John Baron, congratulated him and he was given a hero's welcome.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
UK Border Control
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45-55k

£20000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is an established, ...

Recruitment Genius: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Credit Controller

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful candidate will h...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn