U.K. coalition showing cracks over EU treaty
A major rift is forming in Britain’s coalition government over Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to block a European Union treaty to save the euro.
Calling the move a "bad decision for Britain, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lashed out over the weekend at Cameron, saying it would leave the country "isolated and marginalized."
At an EU summit last week in Brussels, Britain was the sole holdout, rejecting a tighter fiscal alliance in the bloc aimed at ending Europe's deteriorating financial crisis.
In a BBC television interview on Sunday, Clegg said that when Cameron told him of his decision during a phone call on Friday, "I said this was bad for Britain. I made it clear that it was untenable for me to welcome it."
Last year, Clegg's party, the Liberal Democrats, joined with Cameron's larger Conservative Party in Britain's first governing coalition since the Second World War following an inconclusive national election.
The coalition has an 84-seat majority in the 650-seat House of Commons. However, the two parties are far apart when it involves EU rules and regulations and the degree to which they affect government decisions.
Clegg’s open defiance seems confusing to William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary and a member of the Conservative Party.
On Sunday, he disputed Clegg's account, saying that the deputy prime minister had been on board all along with the government's position ahead of the EU summit.
"We are not marginalized, I can assure you of that," Hague told Sky News.
'Disappointed by the outcome'
In the BBC interview, Clegg said he had initially agreed with the prime minister's stance but then reversed his decision.
"I'm bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last week's summit," he told the BBC. "I don't think that's good for jobs ... I don't think it's good for growth."
As acrimonious as Clegg’s public griping may be, political experts don’t expect much fallout.
Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, said Clegg was "trying to have his cake and eat it, too" by going on TV to disagree with Cameron.
Fielding said the Liberal Democrats have left themselves "no alternative" but to remain tied to the coalition after finishing third in the last national election.
Even Clegg dismissed the idea of a breakup in his interview.
"It would be even more damaging for us as a country if the coalition government was to fall apart," he said. "That would cause economic disaster for the country at a time of great economic uncertainty."
But he still had a sticking point – insisting that there be a public referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe.
With files from The Associated Press