Cameron says EU membership is vital to Britain

Mon Dec 12, 2011 1:45pm EST
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By Adrian Croft and Matt Falloon

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron tried to limit the political damage from an historic break with his European partners, insisting on Monday that remaining a member of the 27-nation EU was in Britain's national interest, despite his veto on a new treaty.

Cameron's decision to oppose a European Union 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.

The prime minister sparked speculation about Britain's future relationship with the EU on Friday when he appeared to give a less than wholehearted commitment to Britain's place in the bloc it joined in 1973 and with which the island nation has long had an ambivalent relationship.

"Britain remains a full member of the EU and the events of the last week do nothing to change that. Our membership of the EU is vital to our national interest," Cameron told parliament during a noisy debate on last week's summit.

"We are a trading nation and we need the single market for trade, investment and jobs," Cameron added.

Cameron's veto pleased euroskeptics on the right of his Conservative Party but angered pro-European Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in his coalition that he depends on to push through austerity policies to curb Britain's big budget deficit.

Cameron insisted the tensions would not lead to the coalition breaking up even though his deputy, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, was glaringly absent from the debate, drawing cries of "Where's Clegg?" from opposition Labour lawmakers.

Clegg, who voiced disappointment on Sunday at Cameron's summit decision despite initially appearing to support it, said his presence in parliament would have been a distraction because of his public disagreement with Cameron.   Continued...