Westminster Column

16th December 2011

Before leaving for Brussels last week, the Prime Minister was clear that he would protect Britain’s interests in Europe. Resolving the Eurozone's sovereign debt problem is in our national interest. We were prepared and remain willing to help our European allies work to a permanent solution. However, last week we expected to receive some safeguards in return for our assistance. The Treaty which was discussed involved signatories transferring a significant amount of fiscal sovereignty to Brussels in order to prevent the sort of profligate spending that we have seen. We were prepared to assist the Eurozone countries in this goal as long as they addressed the modest, reasonable and relevant safeguards we asked for in return. Unfortunately these safeguards were not forthcoming which is why the Prime Minister exercised the veto and said no.

We’ve done what we said we were going to do and that was the right thing to do for Britain. I know that after 13 years of Labour government people are surprised when a politician actually does what they say they are going to but the Prime Minister has rightly stuck by his word.

This course of action is not without risks but the far greater risk would have been to lazily accept the consensus that further integration is always the answer and to allow our financial services to be subject to regulation over which we would have had little control. Thousands of people in Birmingham and the West Midlands earn their living from providing financial services.

We remain a committed member of the European Union and will continue to work to ensure that a strong and constructive British voice is heard in all discussions involving the 27. In particular our focus needs to be working together to ensure the single market works with greater deregulation, particularly for small businesses. It is only by keeping our economies open, expanding our trade and making EU laws more business friendly that we can get the economic growth in Europe that we all want to see.

There are a great many challenges that face the EU - from debt to competition - and we will continue to work constructively with our allies on all of these issues. But we will always work to protect our national interests first and foremost and we will continue to do so for as long as we are in government.