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Cameron Facing Party Revolt on EU

David Cameron tried to channel Tony Blair but the growing opposition to his European policy within his party may make this impossible
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/8/2011, 9:54 PM

For years, the official Conservative Party position was to oppose further centralization of power in Brussels at the expense of the member states of the EU.

A few months back, Prime Minister David Cameron and his chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne unveiled a major shift in British policy: in order to salvage the European Union as a major trading partner for the United Kingdom, Britain would drop its objections to an agreement that shifted more powers to Brussels for the Eurozone countries. In exchange it would demand control of policy areas previously surrendered to Europe.

Apparently the situation is so desperate within the European Union that 10 Downing St. has given its blessing to fiscal union amongst the 17 members of the Eurozone without asking opt outs for those areas where Britain has surrendered sovereignty to Europe.

This climb down has ruffled David Cameron's relations with the strong Euroskeptics in his party.  Cameron expected to be able to persuade more moderate Euroskeptics about the urgency of the situation and the disastrous repercussions of delaying the necessary changes.

The Financial Times quoted MP Andrew Percy who had previously insisted on a referendum on Britain's continued membership in the European Union. Percy appeared chastened by the economic developments “For me, the priority now is the prime minister doing what he needs to stabilize the Eurozone to protect jobs for my constituents, but that mustn’t involve the transfer of power from Britain to Brussels.”

To avoid losing face, the British Prime Minister has adopted a tactic used by Tony Blair. Blair, after promising the British electorate a referendum, reneged on his promise by calling the Lisbon Treaty a tidying up exercise. After meeting in Paris on Friday with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Cameron commented:

"When you look at the crisis in the Eurozone, the real need there is for the institutions of the Eurozone to get behind the currency to convince the markets that they have the firepower to do that. The second fundamental thing is real competitiveness throughout the Eurozone so the Eurozone works properly.

"Neither of those things actually requires treaty change but I am very clear if there is treaty change, then I will make sure that we further protect and enhance Britain's interests."

In other words, it is not certain that the British government needs to do anything about the issue and only if the solution to the euro crisis does shift power to Brussels at Britain's expense, then and only then will the government consider taking actions to protect British interests.

Since then David Cameron has had to backtrack and threaten to wield the British veto. The Euroskeptics are not  back benchers but are getting muscle and more importantly, the leader of the opposition Ed Miliband has taken up the cudgels.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, whom some view as Cameron's successor, stated flat out: "If there's a new treaty of 27 that creates fiscal union, we'd have absolutely no choice either to veto it or put it to referendum."

The Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Patterson called a referendum "inevitable".

Earlier this week a former leader and the current Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith called for putting the issue to the people.

So - Despite winter snows the political temperature is rising in Westminster.