David Cameron will stay away from the ceremony at which the European Union will receive the Nobel Peace Prize next Monday in an attempt to placate Conservative Eurosceptics.
Nick Clegg will represent Britain at the high-profile event in Oslo, where he will hold private talks with several EU leaders ahead of a summit to be attended by Mr Cameron later in the week. The leaders’ summit will discuss plans to forge a banking union inside the eurozone. Britain will seek safeguards to prevent the move undermining London as a financial centre.
Mr Cameron’s decision that he has better things to do than attend a celebration of the EU’s role in keeping the peace since the Second World War will raise diplomatic eyebrows. The Oslo ceremony is expected to be attended by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor; Francois Hollande, the French President and the leaders of Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. But the awarding of the prize has angered Eurosceptics in Britain.
Mr Clegg, a former MEP and European Commission official whose mother is Dutch, has no qualms about attending the event. A source close to the Deputy Prime Minister said: “For centuries, the idea of Europe and peace was a contradiction in terms. The fact that we have not been to war with our European neighbours for nearly 70 years now is a testament to the sacrifices of the generations that have gone before us and the hard work since. Nick’s sees this prize as a tribute to the people, not the institution.”
He added: “Coming from a family that has been bought together in Britain after suffering the horrors of both world wars in different parts of the globe, this has particular resonance for him. His family’s history is intertwined with that of the process of peace in Europe.”
Aides said Mr Clegg would also take the opportunity to have a series of high-level conversations with other European leaders about the most pressing issues on their agenda, including banking reform and the EU Budget – on which the last EU summit failed to reach agreement last month.
The official line is that Mr Cameron is “unable to attend” the Oslo event, so Mr Clegg will stand in as the next most senior member of the Government. But it is clear that the Prime Minister believed that his presence would antagonise Tory MPs demanding a tougher line on Europe.