Ken Clarke has put himself at odds with David Cameron by saying Britain should focus on “how to maintain the financial stability of the western world” at this week’s European Union summit, instead of trying to wring concessions out of euro zone countries.
The justice secretary said Mr Cameron should be a constructive player in resolving the euro zone crisis, on the day the prime minister upped his rhetoric and threatened to veto any EU treaty revision unless it contained “British safeguards”.
Asked in a Financial Times interview whether the summit was a good moment to extract concessions on issues such as the protection of the single market or reducing the impact of the working time directive, Mr Clarke said: “No, no.”
The justice secretary said eurosceptic Tory MPs should abandon hopes of securing a referendum on any treaty change arising from the Brussels summit, which starts tomorrow, as there would be no transfer of powers from Britain to the EU.
The veteran pro-European minister said it would be a distraction to try to open up discussions about the “wider structures of the union” and that the priority should be on helping single currency countries to resolve their crisis. Mr Clarke said he did not expect any powers to be repatriated from Brussels to London as a result of the summit – another demand of many Tory MPs: “No, we’re not going to renegotiate any transfers of powers, in my opinion.”
The prime minister agrees with Mr Clarke that the “most important interest right now” is resolving the euro zone crisis but he told the BBC he would use the Brussels talks to demand protection for the single market and Britain’s financial services sector against the risk of euro zone countries laying down terms to all 27 member states.
Officials are drawing up a “menu” of demands, depending partly on whether the euro zone countries – led by Germany and France – decide to strengthen their fiscal rules by amending the EU treaty. That would require the consent of all 27 EU members, including the UK.
Mr Cameron said he would exercise Britain’s veto if the treaty change did not include the safeguards. He has also hinted that the measure, without such concessions, might be voted down in the Commons.
France and Germany could pursue a separate treaty affecting only the 17 members of the euro zone. However, Mr Cameron said he would still insist on British safeguards if a separate euro zone treaty demanded the use of EU institutions – such as the European Court of Justice – to enforce fiscal discipline.