Tory elder statesman Ken Clarke has warned it would be “absolutely ludicrous” for the UK to go to Brussels intending to veto the EU budget.
Mr Clarke, the minister without portfolio in the UK government, who is known to be a pro-European voice in the Conservative Party, insisted that such a position would be “absurd”.
The former chancellor’s remarks came after David Cameron promised to veto the financial package proposed to fund the EU if it is not a good deal for Britain.
The Prime Minister is under pressure from his party after losing a vote thanks to Tory rebels joining Labour earlier this week to call for the UK’s contribution to the EU to be cut.
Mr Clarke said: “It’s absolutely ludicrous to go there intending to veto. It’s just absurd.”
Speaking after an event at the Policy Exchange think-tank in central London, he added: “Every one of the 27 member states has a veto. What they’ve got to do is reach a negotiated situation.
“Of course people have a veto. Any government will veto it if it goes too far in one direction or the other. The Commons vote doesn’t tie anybody to anything.”
Last night, Mr Cameron said he would listen very carefully to Parliament after Tory backbenchers inflicted a stinging defeat on the coalition.
But the Prime Minister insisted the government was taking the toughest ever approach to the negotiations over how much Britain pays to Brussels.
“Of course I will listen carefully to Parliament, but we should be absolutely clear this government is taking the toughest approach to the EU budget of any government in this country’s history,” he told a Downing Street press conference.
“If we don’t get what I consider to be a good deal for Britain, I have no hesitation in vetoing the multi-financial package.”
Later, Mr Clarke sought to clarify his remarks, saying: “The clear meaning of what I said was that we cannot go intending to exercise a veto before we actually arrive.
“But we have an undoubted right to exercise a veto if we cannot negotiate a satisfactory conclusion.”
Referring to the Prime Minister and the Commons vote, Mr Clarke added that it “just strengthens his negotiating position”.
Nick Clegg said on Thursday that in an ideal world he would prefer a reduction in the EU budget, but the government could not wave a “magic wand”.
The Liberal Democrat leader suggested that getting agreement on an inflation-only rise from all 27 countries would be a major coup and, if that happened, Parliament would be asked to confront the “real hard choices”. He said scuppering the deal in the quest for a cut would merely result in annual budget-setting, which was likely to be more expensive and which the UK could not veto.
“Then I think it will be up to, particularly, the Labour Party to decide whether they are going to grow up, stop playing these playground games in Parliament and show that they are capable of making mature decisions in the national interest,” he added.
Conservative MP Mark Reckless, who presented the amendment calling for a cut, said this week that many of his constituents could not understand why, when there were cuts to budgets in the UK’s public services, the EU was getting a larger budget.
Mr Clarke’s intervention came as German chancellor Angela Merkel was reported to be “losing her patience” with the UK, and plans to ask Mr Cameron whether he wants to continue to be part of the European Union.