David Cameron admits Britain's EU position stronger thanks to defiant MPs

European Union

Eurosceptic Tory MPs and the Labour party strengthened Britain's position at last week's European summit after they defied the government to vote in favour of a real terms cut in the EU budget last year, David Cameron said.

As Tory MPs unanimously welcomed the prime minister's success in securing a cut in the budget, the prime minister told a veteran eurosceptic that he was "absolutely right" to suggest that the outcome of the summit marked a good day for parliament.

The prime minister was cheered by almost every Conservative MP after he announced that he had secured a €24bn (£20.5bn) cut in the next seven year EU budget that will run from 2014-20. EU leaders agreed a "payments ceiling" of €908bn, €24bn lower than the €932bn that would have been agreed had the latest budget for 2012 been multiplied by seven years, according to Cameron.

Bernard Jenkin, the veteran Eurosceptic who was one of 53 Tory MPs to defy a three line whip to vote in favour of a cut in the EU budget last October, asked the prime minister about the vote. "May I join the many voices of congratulation for [the prime minister] and say how much I am enjoying this statement? Not only has he brought back a good deal for the British taxpayer, but it was a good day for the British parliament. This house voted for a cut, and he delivered it."

The prime minister replied: "[You are] absolutely right. It is important that other European leaders recognise that when we sit round that table, we listen not to the European parliament, which has its legitimate views, but to our own parliaments. That goes for the British parliament and also for the German, Swedish, Dutch and Danish parliaments. All parliaments of the net contributors must be listened to."

The prime minister tried to embarrass Ed Miliband by challenging him to say whether Britain's Labour MEPs will vote against the budget in a secret ballot, as proposed by their group. Cameron said: "The real test of leadership is whether the leader of the opposition can get not only his own socialist MEPs, but all socialist MEPs to support the deal. If he thinks that it is such a good idea and if he is such a leading player in the socialist group, surely he will be able to convince his MEPs, but we have heard not a word about that."

Labour later clarified that its MEPs would support the budget. But Labour faced pressure on Europe when Ed Balls said that Labour had to be careful not to be "stupid" and to make sure it is not depicted as the "anti-referendum" party.

The shadow chancellor told the Yorkshire Post that Labour had to be careful if it heads into the election ruling out a referendum. "That slightly depends on how stupid we are, doesn't it?" he said when asked about this challenge. "But it also depends on how this plays out."

Balls told the paper's political editor Jack Blanchard: "As long as we don't allow ourselves to be caricatured as an anti-referendum party, which we're not – we've absolutely not ruled out a referendum – I personally think that for now this is quite a good, quite a comfortable position for us.

"If we allow ourselves either to be the 'status quo party' on Europe, or the 'anti-referendum party' on Europe, then we've got a problem. But I think we would be pretty stupid to allow ourselves to get into either of those positions."

Sources said that Balls is happy with Labour's position on Europe and had simply pointed out that the party should not allow itself to be caricatured as anti-reform and should not rule out a referendum altogether.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 12th February 2013 00.02 Europe/London

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