Exclusive: Cameron’s empty threat to the EU - PM is losing the argument because even his allies in Europe do not believe him

Diplomats warn that Britain cannot expect future concessions

European countries have warned David Cameron that his threats about the British people voting to leave an unreformed EU may backfire, undermining the Prime Minister’s hopes of winning major concessions.

Diplomats from countries sympathetic to Britain have told the Foreign Office there will be a limit to sweeteners the Prime Minister can win before putting his new deal to voters in a referendum promised for 2017.

The warnings emerged after the Prime Minister failed to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission. Mr Cameron believes Mr Juncker will stand in the way of reform.

A senior official from a pro-British EU nation told The Independent: “The threat to leave may prove an empty one. It is not the best way to get what you want. Cameron may find that other people will call his bluff.”

Another EU diplomat said: “The view around Europe is that Britain will come to its senses and would not be stupid enough to leave. That means the rest of us will only go so far to help Britain.”

A Brussels insider also said people were “sick of Britain’s complaining tone” and would only help to avoid its exit if ministers made a “positive case” for EU membership.

Mr Cameron, who is due to make a Commons statement on Monday on the turbulent EU summit, held talks by telephone with Mr Juncker on Sunday in a first move to forge a working relationship with him.

Labour launched a scathing attack on Mr Cameron’s approach to the negotiations. Writing on The Independent website, the shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, said Britain had less chance of achieving reform to the EU following the Prime Minister’s “personal defeat and diplomatic humiliation”.

The Government claims Mr Cameron’s unyielding stance against Mr Juncker’s appointment will strengthen his hand when he negotiates new EU membership terms by 2017.

Read more: Jean-Claude Juncker profile

Leaders of Germany and Sweden made conciliatory noises towards Britain after Mr Cameron was outvoted by 26-2 at an EU summit on Friday which nominated Mr Juncker. But the diplomats’ views suggest the Prime Minister’s hardline tactics may rebound on him.

After his humiliating defeat, Mr Cameron admitted the task of persuading the public to stay in the EU had become “harder” but insisted it was not “impossible”.

He said he still intended to recommend an “in” vote in the referendum, because that would be in Britain’s national interest, but he is under pressure from Eurosceptic Conservative MPs to say he is prepared to urge an “out” vote.

Charles Walker, a vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, claimed on Sunday that more than half of the 305 Tory MPs would back leaving the EU.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Cameron and Mr Juncker discussed “how they would work together to make the EU more competitive and more flexible”. He said: “The PM welcomed Mr Juncker’s commitment to finding a fair deal for Britain and Mr Juncker said that he was committed to finding solutions for the political concerns of the UK.”

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, hinted at a change of tone on Sunday as he refused to be drawn on whether leaving the EU would be a disaster.

He told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “This will be the debate in the referendum. I have always argued against more power going to the EU but for us to be a member of Europe but not run by Europe.”

But Mr Alexander said: “[Mr Cameron’s] defeat last week exposes the fact that he has developed the wrong strategy and deployed the wrong tactics. His approach is driven by a mistaken belief that threatening exit, and committing to an arbitrary timetable for a referendum in 2017, maximises your influence, when the evidence demonstrates it has done the opposite.”

EU sources have played down the significance of concessions in the Brussels summit conclusions won by Mr Cameron. The 28 leaders accepted that the UK’s concerns “will need to be addressed” and agreed that the EU’s drive for “ever closer union” will not apply to all member states.

Officials said the statement did not amount to “bankable” promises for renegotiation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?