Britain can do business with Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister David Cameron declared on Monday after failing to prevent EU leaders giving the Luxembourger the bloc’s most powerful job in a defeat that could drive Britain closer to leaving the EU.
Cameron’s loss of an unprecedented summit vote he forced over the next European Commission president sharpened concern that the world’s sixth largest economy may be sliding towards the exit. Only Hungary sided with Britain in the 26-2 vote.
In an article published in the Britain’s Daily Telegraph on Monday after he telephoned Juncker to congratulate him on Sunday, the British leader struck a more conciliatory tone.
“We will now work with him,” he wrote, declaring in the headline: “The Juncker defeat is not a fatal blow. Britain will champion change in Europe.”
“If … we can agree that we are not heading, at different speeds, to the same place – as some have assumed up to now – then there is business we can do,” Cameron wrote.
The Conservative Prime Minister has promised to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties and hold an in/out referendum in 2017 if he is re-elected in a general election next year.
The first opinion poll taken after his defeat over Juncker showed a big plurality of voters now want to leave – 47 per cent against 39 per cent who want to stay in the EU.
Warning in Brussels that the Juncker nomination would make it harder to keep Britain inside the bloc it joined in 1973, Cameron quipped sarcastically that he would be back soon for another EU meeting “in paradise.”
After six weeks of criticizing Juncker and refusing to talk to him, the Prime Minister placed a call on Sunday to the man he had branded a “career Brussels insider” and the wrong person for to head the executive that proposes and enforces EU laws.
“The PM welcomed Mr Juncker’s commitment of finding a fair deal for Britain and Mr Juncker said that he was fully committed to finding solutions for the political concerns of the U.K.,” a spokesman for his Downing Street office said.
But Cameron, 47, said that the nomination of Juncker, a 59-year-old former Luxembourg prime minister of Luxembourg, a veteran European deal broker, would make his goal of renegotiating Britain’s EU ties harder.
“I do not deny that it has made the task harder and the stakes higher,” Cameron wrote. “You don’t turn around a tanker like the EU with ease.”
Cameron was due to address the British Parliament later on Monday to report on last week’s tense EU summit.
In an attempt to explain a strategy that isolated Britain, Cameron has cast himself as a man of principle who was ready to endure personal humiliation to argue the case of disenchanted voters who want the EU to change.
All three main political parties in Britain opposed Juncker but critics accused Cameron of pursuing a confrontational strategy that spooked allies, undermined British interests and lubricated the slide towards a British exit, or Brexit.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, said on Monday the EU's vote represented an “utter humiliation” for the Conservative Leader and that his failed strategy to block Juncker showed that his wider plans of renegotiating Britain’s EU ties were in disarray.
“He couldn’t get four countries to support him over Mr. Juncker,” Miliband told Parliament. “And if he can’t get four countries to block the appointment of a president, how an earth is he going to get 27 countries to support a new [EU] treaty? … His renegotiation strategy is in tatters.”
“Stop waving around the threat of a referendum in Britain as if it’s some sort of pistol that we’re holding to everyone’s head and saying that you’ve got to agree with us or else,” said former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, one of the most influential Europhiles.
Cameron has always said he supports EU membership, seen by most bankers and foreign investors as vital to London’s status as the only financial capital to rival New York.
But ahead of the May, 2015, election, he faces an electorate upset by immigration while his Conservative Party is divided and under pressure from the U.K. Independence Party which won the European Parliament elections with 27.5 per cent of the vote.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who wants to take Britain out of the EU, said Cameron was a “loser.”
“The idea that David Cameron is in any position to negotiate a radical new deal that will advance Britain’s interests in Brussels is looking ever more preposterous,” he said.
Michael Fuchs, deputy leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in parliament, told BBC radio that a British exit from the EU would be a disaster, but lawmakers in Cameron’s own party said a vote to leave was clearly possible.
“The UK’s exit from the EU is not unimaginable,” said John Redwood, a Eurosceptic lawmaker in Cameron’s party. “The rest of the EU would get over it.”
Follow us on Twitter: