May 19, 2022

Cameron, Speaking to Parliament, Defends Actions at Europe Summit

“I responded in good faith,” Mr. Cameron said in the televised speech, explaining his actions last week. “We were simply asking for a level playing field.”

Reiterating his reasons for the veto decision, Mr. Cameron said he could not agree to the changes to European Union treaties because they would have threatened the competitive future of London’s financial services industry, a critical part of Britain’s economy. He also said he had done nothing to compromise Britain’s membership in the European Union itself.

“Britain remains a full member of the E.U. and the events of the last week do nothing to change that,” said Mr. Cameron, who leads the Conservative Party. “Our membership of the E.U. is vital to our national interest. We are a trading nation and we need the single market for trade, investment and jobs.”

But with the 26 other members of the European Union either agreeing to the proposed plan outright or saying they would put the matter before their Parliaments, Mr. Cameron has come in for harsh domestic criticism. Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner in Mr. Cameron’s government, told the BBC on Sunday that Britain was left in danger of being “isolated and marginalized” in Europe. Mr. Clegg added that if he had been in charge, “of course things would have been different.”

Mr. Clegg, who normally sits next to Mr. Cameron on the front bench of the parliamentary chamber, was conspicuously absent during Mr. Cameron’s remarks on Monday.

In an unusually blunt acknowledgment of the divide between Britain and the rest of Europe, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said in a newspaper interview published on Monday that, while he and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had done “everything in order that the English should be part of the agreement” at the Brussels summit, the reality was that “henceforth there are clearly two Europes — one seeking greater solidarity and regulation, and the other attached to the exclusive logic of the single market.”

“You have to understand this is the birth of a different Europe — the Europe of the euro zone, in which the watchwords will be the convergence of economies, budget rules and fiscal policy, a Europe where we are going to work together on reforms enabling all our countries to be more competitive without renouncing our social model,” he told the newspaper Le Monde.

But Mr. Sarkozy also referred to a broader relationship with Britain, despite the ever closer ties between Paris and Berlin in addressing the crisis in the euro zone, of which Britain is not a member.

“Does the importance of the understanding with Germany mean that there is nothing to be done with London? No,” he said. “We intervened in Libya with the United Kingdom and the prime minister, David Cameron, was courageous. With London we share an attachment to nuclear energy and a strong cooperation in defense.”

He also rejected an interviewer’s suggestion that Britain should leave the European Union’s single market — a vast trade zone stretching from Ireland to Scandinavia, the Balkans and the Mediterranean. “We need Great Britain,” Mr. Sarkozy said.

The developments in Brussels brought less ambiguous criticism from Britain’s opposition Labour Party.

“This is the first veto in history not to stop something,” David Miliband, a former Labour foreign secretary, told the BBC on Monday. “The plans are going right ahead. It was a phantom veto against a phantom threat.”

“David Cameron didn’t actually stop anything, because the other 26 are going on and the provisions of the treaty would not have weakened our rights and freedoms one iota,” Mr. Miliband said.

The Labour opposition was intent on echoing those complaints in Parliament, seeking to dent the enthusiasm of the dominant Conservatives and to highlight divisions within the governing coalition.

Many euroskeptic Conservatives, who want Britain to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union, were hailing the outcome of the Brussels summit as a victory. But several officials suggested that both the Conservatives and the more pro-European Liberal Democrats wanted to avoid a widening of the rift between them.

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