UK Politics

Cameron defends 'positive' UK role in euro crisis

David Cameron has defended the UK's role in helping to resolve the eurozone economic crisis amid reports of a row with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The prime minister told MPs the UK was playing a "positive role" in helping tackle the "urgent and overriding" problems facing Europe.

But he acknowledged he had had "frank discussions" with Mr Sarkozy.

Labour leader Ed Miliband accused the PM of lecturing and hectoring EU leaders "from the sidelines".

In a Commons statement, the prime minister updated MPs on progress made at a meeting of EU leaders on dealing with the economic crisis in the eurozone.

He said EU leaders had taken "vital steps" to secure a solution to Greece's debt problems and bolster European banks.

'Good relations'

He also brushed off criticism over a reported row he had with French President Nicolas Sarkozy about the UK's involvement in crisis talks.

The two men are at odds over whether all EU nations, or just those using the euro, should take part in key discussions, with Mr Sarkozy reportedly telling the prime minister that "we are sick of you criticising us and telling us what to do" about the euro.

Mr Miliband said the PM had started the summit "lecturing the Germans and came out of it being shouted at by the French".

"Apparently, President Sarkozy had had enough of the posturing, hectoring and the know it all ways. Mr President, let me say, you spoke not just for France but for Britain as well."

The prime minister said Anglo-French co-operation over Libya was evidence of their strong relationship. But he stressed on occasions it was right to speak up for the national interest.

"If you have good relations with someone, you can have frank discussions with someone," he said.

"I don't for one moment resile from the need sometimes to speak clearly and frankly on behalf of Britain and to stand up for the British national interest. It is in our national interest that the eurozone deals with its problems and it is right we make that clear."

'Interference'

After Mr Cameron finished his statement, MPs started debating a call for a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union.

Although not a member of the single currency, the UK has insisted that stabilising the eurozone is essential to help the British economy and it must have a voice in decisions over the future direction of Europe.

All EU leaders are now set to attend a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the recapitalisation of European banks and further financial support for Greece - a gathering originally meant to be attended by only the 17 countries that use the euro.

At one point during Sunday's discussions, Mr Sarkozy said he was sick of reading in newspapers about the advice Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne were offering the eurozone and now they wanted to "interfere in our meetings".

While the UK has said it would support closer integration, it has warned that this must not distort the single market or competition in key industries to the UK such as banking and financial services.

Mr Cameron said the UK was determined to ensure British interests were protected as part of discussions over the future shape of the eurozone, adding that he was "firmly committed" to returning powers from Brussels to Westminster when the time was right.

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said the Cameron-Sarkozy reflected British concerns that eurozone members could form a "new caucus" that could outvote other EU members on matters affecting British interests.

He said it was ironic that Mr Cameron was involved in a "furious row" with the French president over protecting British interests at a time when he was having to fend off accusations from Conservative MPs that he was not doing enough to protect British sovereignty.

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