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
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before