Nick Clegg has attempted to explain his absence in the Commons on Monday while his boss justified a crucial decision to veto a proposed EU-wide treaty
David Cameron faced braying MPs, but without his deputy by his side. As Labour MPs chanted "where's Clegg?" at Cameron, he said: "The right answer was no treaty. It was not an easy thing to do but it was the right thing to do."
The prime minister offered no apologies and was accused of marginalising Britain by Ed Miliband.
Nick Clegg, who said on Sunday he was "bitterly disappointed" by the prime minister using his veto, said that the Coalition was "here to stay" but repeated his disquiet at the outcome of Thursday's EU summit.
"The prime minister and I clearly do not agree on the outcome of the summit last week.
"I made it very clear that I think isolation in Europe when we are one against 26 is potentially a bad thing for jobs, a bad thing for growth, and a bad thing for the livelihoods of millions of people in this country.
"I am not here to defend the European Union in and of itself: I am here to defend the jobs and livelihoods of millions of people in this country. That's what I care about, and that's why I think what we need to do now is build bridges, re-engage and make sure the British voice is heard loud and clear in the heart of Europe", he told journalists on Monday afternoon.
However the official explanations for what's going on at the top of government are slightly contradictory. Earlier David Cameron told MPs that the Cabinet had agreed Britain's negotiating position in advance of the EU summit last week, but this afternoon Nick Clegg said:
"When I was told the outcome of the summit, after it finished, I immediately told the Prime Minister that I could not welcome it, that I thought it was bad for Britain. I have stayed with that view since, and I have simply amplified on my reasons for that since the summit."
That Nick Clegg didn't stick to Cameron's line about the negotiating position will fuel claims by Labour that the PM walked away from the table, something Ed Miliband accused Cameron of doing during the debate in the Commons. Clegg said: "The specific list of safeguards which were sought, which was a list of negotiating asks, were perfectly reasonable and perfectly measured in their scope. I haven’t changed my mind one bit from the moment the summit was closed."
Still, Clegg played down speculation that the EU split within the Cabinet was a potential coalition dealbreaker, saying: "The coalition government is here to stay. On Europe, what I’m going to do is this – build bridges, re-engage, and make sure that the British voice is heard at the top table in Europe."
The deputy prime minister indicated yesterday that had he been negotiating the outcome would have been "different".
But he was slapped down almost immediately by foreign secretary William Hague, who labelled his claims "unlikely". Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat business secretary had to deny he was planning to resign on Monday morning, telling Sky: "No, no, I’m just getting on with my job as I always do."
Clegg's absence will raise questions over the future of the coalition, despite assurances on Monday morning from Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander who told the BBC: "The coalition was formed, two parties coming together in the national interest, to deal with the fundamental economic challenges that we face as a country and to deliver a programme of reform."
There are signs of deep disquiet among senior Lib Dem peers. Baroness Jenny Tonge told BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday that "at some stage we've got to say enough is enough": "Either we say 'stop this nonsense and the coalition cannot go on', or the Conservatives decide to change tack".
12/12/2011 17:10 GMT
'I am not my deputy's keeper'
@ CarolineFlintMP :
Asked where Nick Clegg is? PM says "I am not responsible for his whereabouts". #Cleggawol
12/12/2011 17:10 GMT
Is Cameron out of the danger zone?
James Kirkup blogs:
OK, I know everyone's going to be more excited about where Nick Clegg was, but I'm going to be boring (as usual) and look at the words Mr Cameron has just spoken in the House of Commons.
12/12/2011 17:05 GMT
And what's going on with the markets you ask?
European shares closed sharply lower on Monday in thin trade, dragged down by banks, as concerns persisted that the measures outlined at last week's EU summit would be of limited value in resolving the euro zone debt crisis.
12/12/2011 16:34 GMT
Debate is becoming a bit predictable...
It's turning into a volley of easy questions from happy Tories. So we'll leave it there. A good day for Tories, who are united and happy.
Not a bad day for Ed Miliband, who looked like a decent opposition leader at the despatch box, unfortunately on an issue which the public are largely behind the PM on.
A miserable day for the Lib Dems. Clegg's failure to turn up remains a mystery. But what can they do when they're already about as unpopular as they can be?
12/12/2011 16:20 GMT
Cable has left the building. As has Huhne.
Clearly the Lib Dem contingent of the cabinet has given up on this Tory love-in. Danny Alexander remains on the front bench, however.
12/12/2011 16:18 GMT
Cam insists Clegg agreed the negotiating position before the summit
PM: it is no surprise to see the coalition doesn't agree on Europe.
12/12/2011 16:05 GMT
Margaret Hodge accuses PM of not doing his homework...
...well it would be prep in Cam's case, obviously. The PAC chair says it's either that or the PM went to the summit always knowing he'd wield the veto.
Unsurprisingly Cameron says neither of those things are correct.
12/12/2011 16:03 GMT
About 60 MPs want to speak. We could be here some time...
Cameron is currently pointing out that if the seventeen Eurozone countries want to proceed with further fiscal union, that's fine.
Sir Menzies Campbell is now on his feet and trying to be constructive. Labour are irritated by this.
Cameron is agreeing, sort of, but the PM's message is that the single market is what matters the most.
12/12/2011 15:59 GMT
@ RAGreeneCNN :
Parting shot: Only one thing is trending related to David Cameron explaining his EU veto - his absent deputy Nick Clegg. Distraction indeed