Nick Clegg has admitted he was “bitterly disappointed” over the Prime Minister’s decision to veto the new EU treaty – describing it as “bad for Britain”.
Lashing out at David Cameron‘s move, the Deputy Prime Minister said he feared the UK would become “isolated and marginalised” within Europe.
Speaking frankly for the first time since Mr Cameron used a veto early on Friday to avoid signing up to the new European economic treaty, Mr Clegg revealed he told the PM it was “bad for Britain”.
At a summit in Brussels, 23 EU nations agreed on a closer fiscal union to preserve the euro.
The Czech Republic, Sweden and Hungary are expected to agree to the changes but will first put the issue to their people – leaving Britain as the sole dissenter.
“I’m bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last week’s summit, precisely because I think now there is a danger that the UK will be isolated and marginalised within the European Union,” Mr Clegg told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
“I don’t think that’s good for jobs, in the City (of London) or elsewhere, I don’t think it’s good for growth or for families up and down the country.”
He went on: “There’s nothing bulldog about Britain hovering somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, not standing tall in Europe, not being taken seriously in Washington.”
Adding to the criticism, former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown told Sky News’ Murnaghan programme the veto had been a “catastrophically bad move”.
“We have used the veto, we have stopped nothing. In the name of protecting the City we have made it more vulnerable.”
Mr Clegg’s public comments come after the The Independent On Sunday reported that he was privately furious with the PM over the veto.
A source close to the europhile Lib Dem leader told the newspaper there was “a spectacular failure to deliver in the country’s interest” at the Brussels summit.
But Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed Mr Clegg had signed up to the Government’s bargaining position in advance of the summit.
“The negotiating position that David Cameron took on Thursday night and Friday morning was agreed in advance with the Lib Dems in the coalition,” he told Sky News.
There’s nothing bulldog about Britain hovering somewhere in the mid Atlantic, not standing tall in Europe, not being taken seriously in Washington.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
He also rejected the claim that Britain would be “marginalised”.
“Our agreement is required in the EU to a whole range of other decisions that will be coming up over the next few months.
“We work closely with our partners on foreign policy, on the single market, and so on, and that will continue.”
Despite the difference of opinion, both Mr Clegg and Mr Hague insisted the coalition was not in danger of collapsing.
“It would be even more damaging for us as a country if the coalition Government was to fall apart,” Mr Clegg said.
“That would cause economic disaster for the country at a time of great economic uncertainty.”
The Foreign Secretary added: “Although some of these different views about Europe have come to the fore in recent days the Lib Dems are clear, as we are, that the coalition continues and that’s in the vital interest of this country.”
In the wake of the dramatic veto, jubilant eurosceptic Tories have stepped up calls for a full renegotiation of Britain’s position in the EU.
But Mr Clegg dismissed these calls, adding: “There is no case for a referendum when there is no transfer of sovereignty of power.
“This is the irony: we were never being asked as a country to transfer any sovereignty whatsoever from the United Kingdom to the European Union.
“What we were being asked to do was consent to a new set of arrangements which would allow the eurozone to do something fiscally.
“What David Cameron clearly needed was to bring something back to show that safeguards were secure, and that didn’t happen.”
Mr Cameron is due to explain his reasoning behind the veto in a statement to the Commons on Monday.
Despite rows at Westminster over the decision the Prime Minister has the support of 62% of the public, a survey for The Mail on Sunday found.
Only 19% said Mr Cameron was wrong to use the veto. Just over half (51%) said the PM had done well at the summit.
The poll, carried out by Survation, which interviewed 1,020 people, also indicated that eurosceptic Tory demands for a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU were well supported across the country, with 66% backing the idea and 22% opposing it.