Cameron faces UK coalition tensions after EU split

Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:52am EST
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By Keith Weir

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron can expect a hero's welcome from his Conservative party but faces a backlash from Liberal Democrat allies on Monday when he explains a European Union veto that has cast Britain adrift from its continental partners.

Cameron's decision not to take part in an EU treaty change aimed at tightening fiscal rules for countries using the euro has isolated Britain in the 27-nation bloc and created the biggest rift in his coalition since he took power in May 2010.

Cameron's deputy Nick Clegg said on Sunday he was "bitterly disappointed" with the outcome of the summit, which he said was "bad for Britain."

Clegg, who had endorsed the decision just days ago, leads the pro-European Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in an uneasy alliance which has vowed to rule until the next election due in 2015.

Despite his emerging anger, Clegg said it would be an "economic disaster" were the coalition - which has imposed harsh spending cuts to fight a record budget deficit - to fall apart now, when the economy is teetering on the edge of recession.

The Liberal Democrats have seen their poll ratings more than halve to just over 10 percent since the election, and Clegg knows that a snap poll would leave them facing another long spell in the political wilderness.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy joined the critics, telling Le Monde newspaper he and German leader Angela Merkel had done everything they could to "ensure Britain was on board with this accord," implying Cameron had deliberately scuppered it.