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'The Right Answer Was No Treaty': David Cameron

UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday defended his decision to veto European Union treaty changes at last week's summit of EU leaders, saying he was faced with a choice of treaty change without safeguards for Britain, or no treaty.

Britain was the only country to veto an EU-wide treaty change, dashing hopes of a lasting and wide-ranging solution to the euro zone debt crisis.

David Cameron
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David Cameron

As a condition for his support, Cameron wanted a greater say for Britain on financial regulations within the EU, because they could hurt Britain's key financial services industry.

Cameron argued he was safeguarding Britain's national interests by using his veto but his critics said that this had soured relations with the EU and had achieved nothing.

The decision also angered Cameron's Liberal Democrat coalition partners led by deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who said at the weekend that he was "bitterly disappointed" by the outcome of the summit.

"Satisfactory safeguards were not forthcoming and so I did not agree to the treaty," Cameron told a rowdy parliament on Monday.

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband noted the absence of Clegg from the parliamentary session, prompting members of parliament to shout "where's Clegg?".

Cameron said he had been "genuinely looking to reach an agreement" in Brussels.

The safeguards he demanded were "modest, reasonable and relevant," he said, adding he had not been looking to gain unfair advantage for Britain.

'Chilling Effect'

The crisis in Europe was having a "chilling effect" on Britain's economy too, and he stressed Britain wanted the euro zone "to sort out its problems".

"The right answer was no treaty. It was not an easy thing to do but it was the right thing to do," Cameron said.

He dispelled the myth that Friday's veto meant Britain was turning its back on the European Union. "Britain remains a full member of the European Union and the events of the last week do nothing to change that," Cameron said.

"We are in the European Union and we want to be," Cameron said, but added: "I believe in an EU with the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc."

Cameron's decision to put Britain's interests — its financial services industry — first has come under attack for being too soft on banks, but Cameron insisted "nothing could be further from the truth".

Since the financial crisis started to unfold in 2008, governments have responded by tightening regulations to prevent a repeat of the crisis.

Cameron said banks "must take responsibility for the mess they have created", but also insisted the sector secured half the UK's exports and millions of jobs.