Britain’s prime minister defends snubbing Europe

Stephen Beard Dec 12, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: We ask ourselves not infrequently whether we’re spending too much time on the Europe story. Is it all that? Or is it just us?

We went out today and asked around. Do you care, or don’t you?

Mark Wheaten: It’s all gone to hell, just like here.

Sarah Tinge: No. Concerned about it, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.

Rony Nissan: If we are going to be part of the European Union, you play by the rules. And if you want to be rescued by them, then you have to play by the rule.

Stanrod Herskovitz: It’s the trickle-down effect; it’s going to really hurt us too.

Terry Wauld: There’s a lot of countries going down the pan. I think Britain will be a lot better, if they weren’t in the eurozone.

That was Mark Wheaten and Sarah Tinge, both in Portland, Ore.; Rony Nissan out of Madrid, Spain; Stanrod Herskovitz in Cleveland; and Terry Wauld out of London, England.

That, as it happens, is where we going next. Because Britain’s not in the eurozone — they still use the pound — and at the moment it’s on the outs with the larger European Union as well.

Last Friday, at the height of all the sturm und drang over the EU rescue deal, Prime Minister David Cameron was the lone dissenter. No thanks, he said, to the treaty meant to create a new fiscal union. Too threatening, apparently, to London’s financial industry.

Our man in London Stephen Beard reports.

David Cameron: With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council.

Stephen Beard: In a rowdy House of Commons today, Prime Minister Cameron stoutly defended his actions at last week’s European Summit in Brussels.

Cameron: I went to Brussels with one objective: To protect Britain’s national interest — and that is what I did.

The prime minister wrapped himself in the Union Flag. His more ardent supporters say he’s the latest in a long line of British heroes valiantly defeating European aggression: Henry V at Agincourt, Wellington at Waterloo, Churchill in the Battle of Britain.

Here’s Conservative Member of Parliament Andrew Rosindell.

Andrew Rosindell: He really has show some bulldog spirit which will be applauded by the vast majority of the British people.

Cameron’s defiance of Europe has thrilled the general public and has pleased some key figures in London’s financial center, known as the City.

Terry Smith runs the Tullet Prebon brokerage. He says by refusing to sign up to the new fiscal union, Cameron has saved London from a fresh new wave of tax and regulation.

Terry Smith: There’s certainly plans afoot in Europe to tax financial transactions and to regulate the markets that operate in the City, which it may now avoid.

But not everyone is applauding Cameron’s staunch defense of Britain’s financial sector.

Lord Oakshott: It leaves us utterly marginalized, utterly isolated.

Nick Clegg: I don’t think that’s good for jobs, in the City or elsewhere, or good for growth.

Lord Oakshott and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrat Party, which is sharing government with David Cameron’s Conservatives. They are deeply upset about Cameron’s move.

Vince Cable, another Liberal Democrat who’s the business secretary, says the finance industry is not synonymous with the U.K.’s national interests.

Vince Cable: Most of our problems in the U.K. were centered on the banking sector, which frankly did grow disproportionately large for the U.K. economy. Balance sheets four times our GDP — one of the largest in the world. And that was a problem.

And yet, Cameron’s critics say this bloated industry with its huge bonuses is now being favored at the expense of Britain’s relations — and its trade — with its European partners. Liberal Democrat Lord Oakshott says Cameron has backed the wrong horse.

Oakshott: I believe the EU and the eurozone will now get their act together and will move forward and we will frankly just be at the back of the train, not consulted.

But the mayor of London — who supports Cameron’s move — has scoffed at the idea that the EU is getting its act together. He’s called the new pact the Supra National And Fiscal Union, or SNAFU for short.

In London, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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