Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Clegg no-show exposes EU treaty row

David Cameron told MPs he tried to reach a treaty agreement at last week's European Union summit
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was absent from the chamber for the EU debate

Tensions over Europe at the heart of the coalition Government have been exposed, as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg failed to attend the House of Commons to hear David Cameron defend his decision to veto last week's proposed EU treaty.

The Liberal Democrat leader said that he did not want to provide a "distraction" by appearing in his usual place at the Prime Minister's side as Mr Cameron told MPs that he had taken "the right course for this country" at the Brussels summit.

But his absence was branded "cowardice" by one Conservative MP, and Mr Cameron's statement was repeatedly interrupted by Labour shouts of "Where's Nick?".

Mr Clegg was later forced to insist that the coalition was "here to stay" until 2015, despite confirming that he and the Conservative Prime Minister "clearly do not agree on the outcome of the summit".

A senior Labour source branded the Lib Dem leader's no-show "spineless", telling reporters: "The Commons chamber is the place where you debate issues and air your differences - you don't hide outside."

Mr Cameron was given a rousing reception by eurosceptics on his own benches, who hailed him for standing up for UK interests at last week's European Council meeting in Brussels.

He told MPs that he had negotiated in "good faith", but was forced to block a treaty of all 27 member states after other EU countries refused to agree to "modest, reasonable and relevant" safeguards for the City of London.

"We went seeking a deal at 27 and I responded to the German and French proposal for treaty change in good faith, genuinely looking to reach agreement at the level of the whole of the European Union," he said. "The choice was a treaty without proper safeguards or no treaty and the right answer was no treaty. It was not an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do."

But Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Mr Cameron of neglecting the national interest in order to appease Conservative eurosceptics with a result that was "bad for business, bad for jobs, bad for Britain".

Mr Clegg himself said in his TV interview: "The Prime Minister and I clearly do not agree on the outcome of the summit last week. I have made it very clear that I think isolation in Europe, where we are one against 26, is potentially a bad thing for jobs, a bad thing for growth and a bad thing for the livelihoods of millions of people in this country."

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