U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is at risk of being outmaneuvered over European Union budget negotiations after his Labour opponents and a lawmaker in his own party called for spending to be lowered in real terms.
Cameron has said he wants the EU to cap the increase in its budget to the rate of inflation, though he’s declined to set out exact figures on the deal he’s seeking for Britain. Labour’s Treasury spokesman, Ed Balls, called in comments published today for a “real-terms cut.” Any increase in the EU’s budget would be “obscene,” said Conservative lawmaker Liam Fox, a former defense secretary.
“The EU budget negotiations are classic opposition tactics to outmaneuver Cameron and force him onto the back foot,” Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of politics at Bristol University, said in a telephone interview. “The Conservatives are already divided, both within themselves and with the Liberal Democrats,” the premier’s coalition partners.
Cameron’s spokeswoman, Vickie Sheriff, told reporters in London the government has taken a “tough position” by arguing for a real-terms freeze in EU spending.
“There simply isn’t a case for a real-terms increase in European spending” over the seven years starting in 2014, Sheriff said. “We’re going to be sticking to our guns. We’ve been pushing the argument with other EU partners.”
Cameron, who has sought to strengthen his euro-skeptic credentials to please elements within the Tory party, now faces accusations that he has not gone far enough, as Labour seeks to exploit tensions among Conservatives.
“Labour will argue against the proposed increase in EU spending and support a real-terms cut in the budget,” Balls wrote in today’s edition of the London-based Times newspaper. Fox, who is a figurehead for Tory euroskeptics, also attacked Cameron’s negotiating position.
“In a continent where a generation of young people are unemployed as a result of the ever-closer EU ideology, the idea that you would even increase for inflation the inflated wages of the eurocrats is obscene,” Fox was cited as saying by the Times.
Tory lawmakers plan to force a vote in the House of Commons on Oct. 31 to block any real-terms increase in the budget, seeking to bind Cameron to a negotiating position. Another amendment to the motion calls for a real-terms cut.
That amendment will “say that there must be at least some constraint on EU spending,” Tory lawmaker Mark Reckless wrote on his blog. “Although many of us would wish to see a substantial reduction in EU spending, at least in line with cuts at home, today we are only asking the government to strengthen its stance so that there is some real-terms reduction in the EU budget.”
Labour lawmaker Gisela Stuart, who was involved in drafting the EU constitution, will say on BBC radio’s “Analysis” program, to be broadcast tonight, that Britain should leave the bloc.
“My argument is that the European Union of 27, of which a core have a single currency, is moving in a way which will become extremely difficult for the United Kingdom to assume that our current relationship can stay the same,” Stuart told BBC television’s “Daily Politics” program today. “The euro countries will have much deeper political integration, and that is the only way the euro as a single currency can survive, and that will then bring some really serious strategic questions for the United Kingdom that we’ve never addressed.”
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