Clegg blames Cameron's "diplomatic ineptitude" for outcome of EU talks while Ashdown attacks PM's "unwise lecturing" of €uro leaders
By Tim Montgomerie
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Last night we learnt that the British people overwhelmingly back the Prime Minister on Europe. 62% said Mr Cameron was right to exercise his veto and only 19% said he was wrong. They are warming to the message that William Hague sets out in The Sunday Telegraph: "Some people doubted that we really meant our commitment always to stand up for the British people. They now have their answer."
But if the British people are backing David Cameron, one person who is not happy is Nick Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister gave a television interview on Friday in which he did not utter one word of criticism of the Prime Minister. He criticised other EU leaders for rejecting what he described as perfectly reasonable requests.
His mood appears to have now changed, perhaps in response to an eruption of anger within his own party led by Paddy Ashdown. Lord Ashdown has written for today's Observer saying (rather hysterically) that Cameron has tipped 38 years of foreign policy down the drain. He blames Cameron for the failure of the EU talks:
"Mr Cameron's "asks" were rejected, not because they were too great – but because it was he who made them. No other British prime minister of recent years would have had difficulty getting this package through. This was Gallic pay-back time for all that unwise Cameron lecturing – and sometimes worse – from the sidelines these last months. I suspect that if he had asked for a cup of tea, Sarkozy would not have lost the opportunity to refuse it."
This also appears to be Mr Clegg's view if we are to believe the Independent on Sunday. It reports that "Mr Clegg is privately seething at Mr Cameron's diplomatic ineptitude and his "spectacular failure" to negotiate properly in Brussels." The Observer's Toby Helm has received similar briefing. "The Deputy Prime Minister believed," the newspaper reports, "the PM had been guilty of serious negotiating failures that risked damaging the national interest, British jobs and economic growth."
I contacted Nick Clegg's team within the last hour and asked if they would disown this briefing. I got a reply which simply said that Clegg was very unhappy with the outcome of the talks. In other words the Independent on Sunday and Observer are very close to the truth.
How far will Nick Clegg take this? Paddy Ashdown insists in his article that the Coalition "must survive" but he also urges Cameron to start resisting the 81 Eurosceptic rebels on his backbenches. [There are more than 81 btw Paddy].
Clegg needs to tread carefully. A YouGov poll for The Sunday Times (PDF) finds that many more voters trust Cameron on Europe than trust him...
Cameron has finally bonded with his party, the centre right press and the majority of the country. He's not going to throw that away easily. I hope.
11am Video of Nick Clegg on this morning's Andrew Marr programme: "I am bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last week's [EU] summit"