The Prime Minister insisted he would “make no apology for standing up for Britain” by deploying the UK’s veto to block a European Union treaty to bail out the euro in fierce exchanges in the Commons yesterday.
But Mr Cameron was accused of making a “catastrophic mistake” by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who urged him to re-enter negotiations with the other 26 EU states to try to get a better deal for Britain.
The clash came in the final session of Prime Minister’s Questions before Christmas, at which Mr Cameron was flanked on the Government frontbench by his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg.
Labour MPs mocked Mr Clegg for exposing coalition rifts over Europe by staying away from the chamber on Monday for the Prime Minister’s statement on the Brussels summit.
Mr Miliband, who welcomed the Deputy Prime Minister back, said Mr Cameron had promised the coalition Government would operate in a “collegiate” way, and asked: “What’s gone wrong?”
But Mr Cameron retorted: “No one in this House is going to be surprised that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats don’t always agree about Europe... I make no apology for standing up for Britain.”
Mr Miliband told Mr Cameron negotiations on the implementation of last week’s inter-governmental agreement would continue until March and it was not too late to rejoin discussions.
And he offered his sympathy to Mr Clegg, who was woken last Friday to be told Mr Cameron had used the veto to block EU treaty changes designed to impose new fiscal disciplines on eurozone states.
But Mr Cameron said Mr Miliband had failed to make clear whether he would have signed the proposed treaty, taunting him: “This leader of the Labour Party makes weakness and indecision into an art form.”
And he sought to turn Mr Miliband’s accusations of a coalition rift back on the Labour leader by highlighting his own differences with brother David: “He shouldn’t believe everything he reads in the papers,” he fired back. “It’s not that bad – it’s not like we’re brothers or anything.”
The clash came shortly after Mr Clegg met pro-European business leaders concerned over the use of the veto and over Mr Cameron’s threat to block the use of EU institutions to support the compact
He told the Business for New Europe (BNE) group government and business should work together to ensure that “those countries that invest very heavily in the UK from Asia, from Latin America and elsewhere are absolutely in no doubt that Britain is and will always remain a gateway for trade and for the exchange of services and goods into the European single market”.
Addressing her parliament yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Britain would remain an important member of the EU and warned there was no quick fix for the economic crisis.