February 8, 2013 8:28 pm

PM buoys eurosceptic Tories

The prime minister emerged triumphant from European budget talks on Friday as he delivered the first cut to Brussel’s spending in its 56-year history, to the particular delight of eurosceptic members of his party.

The prime minister said Britain could be “proud we’ve cut the seven-year credit card limit for the first time ever”. He also praised his European allies in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands for helping push through deep cuts.

The seven-year deal was a coup for the prime minister, who looked isolated in Europe after November 2011, when he vetoed a pact aimed at saving the euro following a stand-off with France and Germany. This time, Mr Cameron found an ally in Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

“It shows that, working with our allies, it is possible to take real steps towards reform for the European Union,” said Mr Cameron, after 48 hours of gruelling negotiations.

His negotiating success also put paid to suggestions that Mr Cameron’s influence in Europe would be neutered by his recent announcement of a proposed in-out referendum in the UK on EU membership.

“I pay tribute to David Cameron to achieving this,” said Priti Patel, a eurosceptic backbencher. “It sends out a powerful message about Britain’s negotiating position in Europe and also shows respect for him.

“It should set the tone too for other European leaders to look ahead to think about what kind of reforms Europe needs to make it a real competitor,” she added.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, also praised Mr Cameron. “It is simply not right for the EU budget to go up when cuts are having to be made at home ... Whilst we may have our differences on other European issues, we have worked as one to keep the EU budget in check.”

The achievement will rally the parliamentary party, badly bruised this week after Mr Cameron pushed through a vote to allow same-sex marriage. The bill left his party divided and angry, with more than half of Mr Cameron’s 303 MPs either voting against the change or abstaining.

“It was the worst week I have had since entering parliament,” said one MP. “The whole party has been feeling dreadful about that vote, so this budget win will really serve to lift spirits.”

Mr Cameron also said he had managed to secure the budget cut while leaving the British rebate intact. “Attempts to undermine the British rebate have been made again and again recently, on every side,” said Mr Cameron. “I have fought off these attempts and the rebate is safe.”

But he admitted the country could still end up having to pay more in contributions to Brussels’ budgets, despite the overall cut.

Mr Cameron said this was because Tony Blair, a Labour former prime minister, gave away part of the rebate in previous negotiations, including paybacks of funds towards restructuring in poorer EU countries.




David Cameron’s victory over the European budget was met with cynicism from Nigel Farage as the UK Independence Party leader insisted Britain would be better off leaving Europe than trying to “cut a few pence” from its Brussels bill.

As Conservatives hailed their leader’s success, Mr Farage took a swipe at the prime minister on Twitter. “Clearly a huge victory for David Cameron: looks like he’s managed to increase the UK contributions!” he wrote.

“Cutting a few pence off our daily contribution is inconsequential; the question now is why are we paying anything at all?”

But the prime minister’s success in delivering the first real terms cut in the EU budget is a further blow to Ukip, which has seen its support drop in recent weeks on the back of Mr Cameron’s more vocally eurosceptic stance.

At the beginning of the year, Mr Farage’s party was polling 16 per cent support, but that dropped back to 9 per cent in the wake of Mr Cameron’s pledge to promise a referendum on Europe last month.

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