Eurosceptics blast Cameron's U-turn

David Cameron has softened his tone on closer European integration to end the eurozone crisis. A clever move to keep Britain at the table, or is the prime minister losing his nerve?

David Cameron is facing anger from Conservative eurosceptic MPs. It comes after the prime minister backtracked on his earlier opposition to euro members using European Union institutions, such as the European Court of Justice, to enforce tighter budgetary discipline in the eurozone.

"His U-turn is complete," says Andrew Grice in The Independent. Tory MPs who hailed him as a hero in December when he vetoed the new EU treaty that would have enforced tougher fiscal rules on eurozone countries have "turned their fire" on him after he "watered down" his objections. Douglas Carswell MP told The Times he'd hoped "this would turn out to be a rather clever move, [but] it looks as if we're part of a club where we don't appear to have a say as to what the rules are".

Tory eurosceptics are angry that the prime minister is "waving through a pact he once opposed", says Alex Barker in the Financial Times. At the Brussels summit this week, 25 of the European Union's 27 members signed up to the "German-inspired" treaty to support the euro.

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Only Britain and the Czech Republic refused, "leaving the UK in a minority of two", notes The Independent. Cameron says he will continue to watch the EU "like a hawk" for signs of encroachment on British interests and has threatened to fight them with legal action.

Yet after the hard line he took in December, Cameron has privately "adopted a more low-key and constructive approach" in his dealings in Europe, says the FT. The litigation threat is simply a bid to "assuage his party's annoyance". "There is little prospect that the UK will take legal action," agrees The Independent, "not least because the case would be heard by the European Court of Justice itself, which normally rules in favour of European integration".

While the "weakness of Britain's legal position" is evident, says the FT, Cameron looks increasingly vulnerable at home, although it's unlikely there will be a "serious revolt" this spring when MPs vote on legislation to put together a eurozone bail-out fund.

That's because even eurosceptics understand why he is being accommodating, says Tim Montgomerie in the Daily Mail. "The crisis in the European economy is at boiling point and a war over the use of meeting rooms... isn't going to lower the temperature." The French would love to blame Britain for "standing in the way" of a solution to the eurozone crisis, but by diluting the veto, Cameron can't be painted as "the little boy who pulls his finger out of the dyke".

The real test will come if the eurozone does collapse, ending the idea of "a one-size-fits-all" Europe. Will Cameron be strong enough then to fight for a different relationship with Europe? He'd better be. "In these difficult times, the country won't forgive weak leadership."

Piper Terrett is a financial journalist and author. Piper graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge, in 1997 and worked for Germaine Greer and for Adam Faith’s Money Channel before embarking on a career in business journalism. 

She has worked for most top financial titles, including Investors Chronicle, Shares magazine, Yahoo! Finance and MSN Money. She lectures part-time at London Metropolitan University and is the author of four books.