THE LIBERAL Democrats were in disarray yesterday with senior cabinet figures lashing out over David Cameron’s veto of a new EU treaty on Friday – but they stopped short of quitting as two polls showed public opinion firmly against them.
The first post-veto polling showed that Cameron’s move is popular with voters: a Daily Mail poll showed 62 per cent in favour versus 19 per cent against, while another for the Times/Populous found 57 per cent for and 14 per cent against.
Yet having initially expressed support for the veto, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appeared to shift yesterday, warning that Britain risks becoming “a pygmy in the world when I want us to stand tall in the world”.
He added that Cameron’s move was a “bad deal” that is “bad for Britain” and did not gain anything for the City.
Business secretary Vince Cable was said to be on the verge of quitting but in the event settled for lambasting Cameron from the sidelines.
And Liberal Democrat MEP Sharon Bowles said that Cameron “has played a dangerous game and lost”. It is understood that she has privately voiced the belief that she will lose her chairmanship of the European Parliament Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee to a German rival as a result of the veto.
But despite their rhetoric, no senior Lib Dems have yet proven willing to collapse the coalition by walking out.
The anxiety over the veto extends beyond the coalition however. It has caused chaos for British lobbying operations in HM Treasury and in the City.
Senior Treasury civil servants, some of whom are in the midst of negotiations on EU regulation, were said to be flummoxed by the veto, while City lobbyists began preparing a fresh charm offensive to try and shore up their influence in Brussels. And City A.M. understands that the British Bankers’ Association, which has 230 members from 60 countries, has been advised to downplay the “British” in its name by a Brussels-based UK politician.
There are also suggestions that the government mishandled preparations for the summit and was overly confident that the French and Germans would deliver some concessions.
The government is understood to have been preparing a post-summit briefing for MPs that would list the concessions it expected to extract from Brussels.
But Eurozone leaders were not interested in discussing Britain’s demands, leading to charges that Cameron’s negotiating team miscalculated.