First Cabinet Meeting Since European Veto And Clegg's Sulk On Tuesday
Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers are to confront significant tensions within the coalition over Europe as they meet face-to-face across the Cabinet table.
The weekly meeting comes a day after the depth of the rift was laid bare by Nick Clegg's decision not to attend the Commons as David Cameron defended exercising Britain's veto in Brussels.
In an interview given as the Prime Minister received the plaudits of Tory eurosceptics for his refusal to sign up to a new treaty, his Lib Dem deputy insisted the coalition was "here to stay".
Mr Cameron also indicated a willingness to engage "constructively" with the other 26 EU states on the use of EU institutions to support their new inter-governmental agreement.
On Sunday, Mr Clegg said it would be "ludicrous" to expect every other member state to form a new set of structures for the "fiscal compact" planned to deal with the single currency crisis.
But the Lib Dem leader, accused of "cowardice" by one Tory MP and mocked as "spineless" by Labour, admitted he and Mr Cameron "clearly do not agree on the outcome" of last week's EU summit.
He renewed his warning that leaving Britain isolated was "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".
As the political fallout from the dramatic decision to walk away from the talks mounted, Mr Clegg said he stayed away from the chamber to avoid being a "distraction" to the premier's statement. Aides said television images of the Liberal Democrat leader sat silently beside Mr Cameron would be more damaging to the party than negative headlines about his no-show.
In the chamber, Mr Cameron was given a rousing reception by eurosceptics on his own benches, who hailed him for standing up for UK interests and showing a "bulldog spirit". He told MPs that he had negotiated in "good faith" but had no option after other EU countries refused to agree to "modest, reasonable and relevant" safeguards for the City of London. "The choice was a treaty without proper safeguards or no treaty and the right answer was no treaty. It was not an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do."
He was quick, however, to close down suggestions that last week's veto should be followed by a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. "Our membership of the EU is vital to our national interests," said Mr Cameron. "We are a trading nation and we need the single market for trade, investment and jobs."