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Nick Clegg set to 'pick up the pieces' after row

By Andrew Grice

A drive to “pick up the pieces” will be led by Nick Clegg following the collapse of last week's European Union summit. But there were new strains in the Coalition after Liberal Democrat ministers criticised David Cameron's negotiating tactics during a heated cabinet discussion yesterday.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, complained that his party should have been consulted during the talks in Brussels which ended with Britain in a minority of one last Friday. He contrasted Mr Cameron's approach with his own during the global climate change talks in Durban, saying he cleared his lines with other ministers as the meeting progressed.

Mr Huhne, a former MEP, is said to have interrupted the Prime Minister twice as he summed up yesterday's 50-minute cabinet debate and last night went public with his criticism of Mr Cameron.

“Isolation is not a good posture in any negotiation,” he said. “Playing ‘Billy No Mates' is no fun and is not effective in defending British interests.”

He warned: “Businesses (abroad) need to know that we have influence in delivering the single market. If they feel, sitting in a boardroom in Shanghai, that we don't have influence then it is very likely they will be less attracted to investing here.”

Mr Clegg told Lib Dem MPs and peers last night the row would not bring the Coalition to an end. “The Government will carry on until 2015. Full stop,” he said.

Other Liberal Democrat ministers told the cabinet they were unhappy that Mr Cameron had wielded the veto to block an EU-wide treaty aimed at rescuing the single currency.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is understood to have expressed concern about the possible impact on business and foreign investment in Britain if the country is viewed as not fully committed to the EU. But Conservative ministers defended Mr Cameron's decision to veto the proposed treaty, arguing that his hand in future negotiations would have been weakened if he had backed down.

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