Clegg and Cameron clash over EU Summit

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has voiced his 'bitter disappointment' over Cameron's use of Britain's EU opt-out. 'A Britain that leaves the EU will be considered irrelevant,' he said.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Resolute europhile Clegg has spent the weekend telling of his exquisite agony when learning of David Cameron’s decision to pull out of the EU treaty at 4am on Friday morning. It’s ‘bad for Britain’ he reportedly told the Prime Minister.

There’s something rather odd about the consistent disunity in the Coalition. When Cameron swings one way, Clegg swings the other, almost as though it were part of an over-arching (yet undercover) strategy to keep all bases covered at all times. When Cameron takes a stance that alienates half of the voting public, Clegg swoops in, beating his breast and berating the PM, thus assuring the peeved populous that someone in government understands their pain.

This latest development is no exception. ‘[Britain] will be a pygmy in the world,’ lamented Clegg. Yet are the mutterings of isolation and marginalisation founded in fact? One thing is for sure, the decision on Friday was a failure of negotiation even if it was the right thing to do. Cameron played his only card far too early in the game – the PM would be dreadful at poker, folding despite a pocket pair every hand. Admittedly, the stakes are high enough to shake anyone’s poker face: the eurozone is currently the single greatest threat to the world economy and our own. And the question remains, Did Cameron really walk or was he pushed? Clegg himself criticises French and German ‘intransigence’.

Luckily, trade does not depend on political unity but on competitive supply and demand. You could argue that Britain is in fact far better placed to sharpen its competitive edge - especially in the fast-growing economies of South America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa - now that it is more independent from Brussels and its endless red tape. Regulation is only going to get more binding. Perhaps Spain will have to say ‘adios’ to the siesta to meet new employment laws? Italy’s public sector will certainly be forced to work next August rather than having a month-long jolly in the sun, breaking an eterno tradition. But these changes would, doubtlessly, be good for the countries in question. Are we, as Clegg says, freezing ourselves out of an EU that is set to rise, brighter and stronger than ever?

Cameron used the opt-out (which he prefers, erroneously, to call a veto) in order to protect the City, or more broadly speaking, Britain’s financial sector. And there are countries that does a roaring trade - in finance particularly - despite (or perhaps because of) its exclusion from the EU. Switzerland, for one.

Switzerland, let us note, has a higher GDP that most countries in Western Europe. The Swiss franc has also been among the most dependable and valuable currencies on the Forex, dropping only when Switzerland itself decided to peg its fortunes to the euro to stop its export market over-heating – no one was rich enough to buy its output. In short, if Switzerland is doing just fine outside the EU, can’t Britain do the same? Well, the situation is not as clear cut over here. We have a more diverse economy; we trade in real goods and services as well as moving numbers around.

As of this morning, and despite all the hot air regarding financial unity rising from the EU Summit on Friday, the euro has slipped. European stock futures are also pipped to sink. But Cameron mustn’t start counting his chickens yet. The phoneix may yet rise.

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