David Cameron took the plaudits of everyone from business leaders to Conservative backbenchers last month when he effectively wielded the veto against changes to the EU treaty.
The prime minister was unable to secure safeguards for the City of London and so opted against joining most of the other EU nations which look set to sign a new treaty.
But now questions are being asked about what benefit the City and the rest of the UK will feel from Cameron’s decision to stay out of a new treaty, which includes France and Germany.
When questioned on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about what safeguards he had achieved, Cameron said: “What I stopped was that if you have a treaty within the framework of the European Union that didn’t have safeguards on the single market and on financial services, Britain would have been in a worse position.
“I am not making some great claim to have achieved a safeguard but what I did do was stop a treaty without safeguards. Is that clear enough?”
Clear enough for some – Cameron would have become very unpopular in the City had he signed up to a new EU treaty complete with stringent regulations on the financial services sector. But Cameron’s political opponents still question whether he would have been better off staying at the negotiating table.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: “David Cameron has today admitted that he secured no safeguards for the UK when he walked away from talks at last month’s EU summit.
“Giving up on negotiations has compromised British interests, not safeguarded them, and means the UK will struggle to have a voice in talks that could have a profound effect on jobs and growth in Britain.”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed the “so-called veto” was “no more than a fudge”. Farage said: “David Cameron has finally admitted that he has not achieved some great safeguard for British business. Nothing has changed.”
Cameron also insisted he was prepared for last month’s European summit. He confirmed he met with German chancellor Angela Merkel three weeks before the summit to discuss Britain’s position, which had been agreed “across government”.
The prime minister said the safeguards Britain wanted were “moderate, reasonable and relevant”, but said the German and French proposals were put on the table “very late in the day”.
Cameron said: “We absolutely envisaged either a situation where we had a treaty change at 27 with safeguards, or Britain saying no to a European treaty.
“In those circumstances we were absolutely clear that it was very likely that other European countries in the euro, and some outside, would go ahead and sign a treaty outside the European Union and that is what it looks like is going to happen.”
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