HEALTH secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday accused European leaders of “cowardice” for backing Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment to the EU’s top job.
Hunt attacked the premiers for saying they would oppose the arch-federalist’s nomination in private, only to then support him publicly.
David Cameron was overwhelmingly defeated on Friday in his bid to block the former Luxembourg prime minister from becoming the next president of the European Commission. He has acknowledged he now faces a tougher fight to convince Britons to remain in the EU.
The Prime Minister was left isolated as his fellow leaders rejected his pleas and voted 26-2 in a departure from the decades-old tradition that commission chiefs are chosen by consensus among all member states.
Yesterday Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the drubbing showed Cameron will not be able to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Brussels and claimed EU leaders would rather see the UK leave than thrash out a substantial new deal.
But Hunt accused EU leaders of “cowardice” and insisted British voters would be “proud” of the Prime Minister.
He told reporters: “As a result of cowardice yesterday from other leaders who weren’t prepared to stand up in public and say the things they had said in private, they’re going to have to work a lot harder to persuade the British people that Europe can be trusted with a proper reform agenda that’s going to make it strong and competitive in a very tough global economy.”
Former defence secretary Liam Fox insisted the defeat “has not weakened the Prime Minister and Britain’s role in Europe”.
“The Prime Minister has shown Britain will not take a back-seat approach to reform of the European Union,” he wrote in a newspaper. “If Juncker represents an even more integrated EU, then the Prime Minister has shown he supports an agenda for reform.”
Cameron insisted he had taken “some small steps forward” by securing changes to the text of a document setting out the EU’s strategic agenda for the next five years, to make clear that the 28-nation bloc is ready to address British concerns about its direction of travel and accepts that its commitment to “ever-closer union” does not preclude individual members taking their own decisions on the pace of integration.
But Farage dismissed the crumbs of comfort that the Prime Minister took in the agreement, insisting German chancellor Angela Merkel “wasn’t for a moment suggesting that Britain could opt out of the principle of ever closer union”.
“The result of yesterday is to show David Cameron is friendless in Brussels, but ultimately it’s whatever Chancellor Merkel decides,” the Ukip leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“What I saw yesterday was the Prime Minister utterly humiliated, looking like a loser who had learnt nothing, still insisting, though it’s rather more difficult, that he can renegotiate our position. He can’t.”
He added: “In terms of the fundamental changes that the British people really want in this relationship, namely we want a trade deal and not membership of a political union, I would say this to you: the other European leaders and certainly the European Parliament would rather the United Kingdom left the EU than start to pick apart the treaties, because if they do that they know there’ll be half a dozen other northern European countries that will demand the same.”