Last night, the British government suffered a “stinging defeat” in the House of Commons after more than 50 Conservative rebel backbenchers joined forces with opposition Labour MPs to demand a real-term reduction in the EU’s budget. The vote is not binding on Mr Cameron, who could choose to ignore it when European leaders meet at a summit in Brussels on 22 November to discuss the EU’s next seven year budget. However, Mr Cameron will need the eventual support of parliament to approve the budget, so this places him in a difficult spot.
Cameron has already threatened to use his veto during the budget negotiations if he doesn’t get his way (he’s seeking a “freeze” of the budget, that would see it rise no more than inflation), but EU rules mean a veto might actually end up increasing the budget regardless. Furthermore, relationships between the UK and other member states are already strained after Cameron last used his veto on the fiscal compact in December 2011. Any further “handbagging” from the British Prime Minister, then, risks damaging what goodwill remains.
In September, as part of our series examining the troubled British relationship with the EU, we interviewed Phillip Souta, the Director of Business for New Europe. Mr Souta was on BBC Newsnight recently, arguing with Mark Reckless, one of the Conservative rebels who voted with Labour against the government last night. When we spoke to Mr Souta, we asked him how far the UK would be able to push its luck in terms of renegotiations and opt-outs from the EU before the other member-states had simply had enough.
Christos from Greece, for example, sent us in a comment arguing that there should be “no more cherry-picking” when it comes to EU laws. If the UK is allowed to get opt-outs from laws, then other countries should be able to do the same, but, asks Christos: “How can we build a functioning union if every state picks only what suits them and opts out from what it doesn’t?”
Phillip Souta argued that ideally, treaty rules would apply to everyone, but that the UK is not unique in having opt-outs and there’s “nothing in principle stopping member-states from [negotiating] opt-outs”.
We had a comment from Jaroslav, however, who argued that Britain already has too many opt-outs, and that renegotiating further loosening of the rules will be impossible, until eventually “Britain will have to choose between [staying in the] EU with all its pros and cons, or simply leaving.”
What do YOU think? Should David Cameron veto the EU budget? Or would this achieve nothing but further damage to Britain’s relationships in Europe? Should the UK pursue a strategy of renegotiation and opt-outs from EU law? Or is it time for the UK to simply choose to either accept the EU (“warts and all”) or hold a referendum and, possibly, leave for good? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their response.