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Business Home > International
 
Cameron seeks further cuts

Thomas Penny (Bloomberg) / 8 February 2013

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, seeking to satisfy restive lawmakers in his Conservative Party, called for spending cuts as European Union budget talks got under way.

He face anger from his party if he fails to build on his promise of a new relationship between Britain and the EU.

“Many Tory MPs are going to face a grilling from their local activists this weekend and, as a result, they’re unlikely to be in the best of moods when Mr Cameron stands up in the Commons to report on how things went in Brussels,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University London, said in a telephone interview. “He’s likely to come away from the summit at best empty-handed and at worst facing allegations that he’s actually given something away.”

Cameron, who left an EU summit in November saying he’d vetoed a proposed budget package, said last month that, if he wins the 2015 general election, he will begin a renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the 27-nation bloc, seeking to repatriate unspecified powers. He would then hold a referendum on a potential EU exit by the end of 2017.

“The numbers that were put forward were much too high,” Cameron told reporters as he arrived on Thursday in Brussels. “They need to come down, and if they don’t come down, there won’t be a deal.”

At home, the UK’s flatlining economy, a consistent lead for the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls and the hemorrhaging of Tory voters to the UK Independence Party over issues such as gay marriage and immigration, have led to reports in newspapers such as the Mail on Sunday of plots to unseat the prime minister among rank-and-file lawmakers.

It was over Europe, a constant fissure in his party since the 1990s, that Cameron suffered his first House of Commons defeat at the hands of his own lawmakers on October 31, as rebels joined with the Labour opposition to demand he push for a real-terms reduction in the EU budget, not just the freeze he’d been seeking.

Of the 50 Conservatives who opposed him that day, 38 also voted against him on gay marriage, indicating how entrenched the split in his party has become.

The prime minister told lawmakers on Wednesdayday that he expects Thursday’s talks on the bloc’s spending plans to be tough.

“These will be extremely difficult negotiations,” Cameron said during his regular question-and-answer session in the House of Commons. “Our aim is the significant cut that I have spoken about” to the European Commission’s plan for spending €973 billion ($1.3 trillion) over seven years.

French President Francois Hollande told the European Parliament on February 5 that Britain should not be allowed to dictate to the rest of Europe and signaled European unease with Cameron’s boasting that he had won a victory for Britain by blocking the budget in November.

“They say it’s difficult or impossible on the United Kingdom’s side, but why should one country decide for 26 others?” Hollande said.

“It was possible to strike an agreement at the last European summit. In order to let others say the failure was a victory, we let it happen and now that’s made an agreement more difficult.”

 

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